Political Revolution 101

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medium.com

By Charles Lenchner

“We need a political revolution of millions of people in this country who are prepared to stand up and say, ‘enough is enough,’” Sanders argued. “I want to help lead that effort.” (The Hill, 5/3/15)

One of the more interesting themes of the Bernie Sanders campaign is his call for a political revolution. When I first heard him use this phrase, I wondered what he actually means. It’s one of those common yet amorphous words at risk of meaning anything —  or nothing.

So how are supporters of Sanders’ campaign supposed to interpret the call for revolution? It could be nothing more than hyperbolic red meat for a country in an outsider-ish mood. Perhaps “revolution” is just an adjective describing the totality of policy prescriptions he supports, from Glass-Steagall to paid family leave.

A great thing about Sanders’ NOT giving a full, detailed, explicit answer is that it forces his growing community of supporters to start figuring it out for themselves. Far from being a distraction from the business of generating votes and delegates, it’s an essential component of having a revolution. Spectacular politics, the televised, digitized, firehose of polling results and gotcha moments, is quite different from the business of revolution. Bernie is inviting us to have a foot in each world  —  so let’s take him up on that.

A revolution requires organization. All the iconic leaders, in any century, were basically spokespersons for groups that met and voted, simply trying their best to represent. Questions about what kind of organization or network is required have preoccupied would-be revolutionaries throughout our history. We should be thinking about and experimenting with kinds of organization and mass participation for one simple reason: whatever exists today hasn’t worked yet.

A century ago, the American Socialist Party had 100,000 members. That’s about .1% of the population; a similar number today would be 300,000. Erica Chenowith estimates that the number of people needed to bring a genuine (nonviolent) social transformation is much higher  —  perhaps 3.5% of the population. That’s about 11 million Americans.

Revolutionary ideas are not sets of policy proposals. They are ways of upsetting the “commonsense” view of things in favor of a new one. Sanders said at a recent event that the current distribution of wealth is immoral. This is a revolutionary idea in a society where most people have been taught from a young age that wealth is the product of hard work, or that there is no alternative to the dominance of the markets over our democracy. Without explicit shifts in the mindset of large numbers of people, policy proposals that run counter to the consensus fall on deaf ears. While many fellow citizens have revolutionary ideas in their heads, we know that the number of these people and the intensity of their convictions are less than enough to make those ideas work. So we need mechanisms to popularize our ideas and permeate popular culture with them.

The electoral arena is insufficient, on its own, to achieve radical change. The U. S. was constructed, intentionally, to allow our elites to hold firm against waves of populist sentiment and even inconvenient voting habits. These bulwarks against change include the “first past the post” method of winning elections, the resulting two-party system, the Electoral College (indirect elections) and an unaccountable central bank (the “Fed”) that answers to financiers, not the people. But politicians rarely prioritize non-electoral methods for achieving change, and certainly not during elections. A multi-billion dollar industry is devoted to electoral politics, but there is no parallel infrastructure of comparable size for social movements or community organizing. A revolution requires that we interconnect electoral politics with grassroots movements during and between election seasons, in an ongoing and uninterrupted way. We know this is true, because we’ve seen political candidates suck out people, money, and attention from social movements, leaving folks on the ground confused, demoralized and unprepared for the next challenge.

I’m not a revolutionary theorist and I certainly won’t try to channel what Bernie Sanders thinks about these questions. But I think the hundreds of thousands of people mobilized to help Bernie Sanders win, and the millions more eager to vote for him, ought to spare a moment to think about these things. Not alone, but in communities of many shapes and sizes. Not as an alternative to the important work of winning the vote, but as a necessary condition for winning that vote. Not later, by other people, but now  —  and by you.

This was the idea that led us to form People for Bernie  —  a parallel project with these goals, completely committed to aiding the Sanders campaign and spreading its message.

Our eyes are on the primary, the convention, and beyond.

If you’re interested in advancing the revolutionary potential of the Bernie Sanders campaign, please sign up with People for Bernie. Political revolution, here we come.

Charles Lenchner is co-founder of People for Bernie, co-founder of Ready for Warren, executive director of Organizing 2.0, a digital strategist, and a member of DSA.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

This article was originally published on medium.com.

Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America www.dsausa.org. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

 

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 9 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.