Dear Us and Dear Bernie: A Few Notes on Our Revolution
Left commentary berates mainstream media for serving up ‘too much Trump.” Fair enough, but left writers also flood us with endlessly repetitive Trump coverage.
Left commentary claims that at election time an endless stream of writers overemphasize the ephemeral and ignore the serious. True, but left writers also continually repeat what people already know while offering few usable lessons for the future.
Left commentary worries that Sanders will ratify the idea that politics is only about candidates and leave nothing lasting in place. Also fair, but left writers not only worry about this prospect, we contribute to it when we fixate on one person’s possible choices and ignore our own responsibility for achieving more.
Left commentary bemoans distraction. Sensible, but the complaint becomes ironic when left writers continually repeat that elections don’t matter while not addressing what does matter, the longer term.
How will left writers, periodicals, activists, and organizations explain ignoring – or even just watching, sniping at, and then dismissing, but never actively engaging with and trying to contribute to – a serious attempt to leave real organization in place, an organization called, no less, “Our Revolution”?
It is wonderful that all kinds of people are engaged in all kinds of worthy projects and struggles, but beyond that the election revealed potentials for connection and for overarching organization to empower all such endeavors. So even as we all continue doing what we have been doing, shouldn’t we also try to actualize those potentials?
The Sanders Campaign is sponsoring what looks to be roughly two thousand house parties on August 24 to hear Sanders, and perhaps others, describe “Our Revolution.” 2,000 gatherings means perhaps 20,000 people, and maybe more, who are already deeply interested in becoming part of a new organization. Just think how many more there are out there.
To host or attend such an event is good. However, to reach the full potential of current possibilities, participants will need to do a lot more than merely hear and then implement other people’s organizational and programmatic conceptions.
Shouldn’t those who speak, write, and organize for long-term fundamental change try to critically support and contribute to “Our Revolution” becoming the best it can be, even as we also continue with our own on-going efforts?
Shouldn’t we try to make “Our Revolution” happen rather than saying it won’t happen?
Shouldn’t we try to make “Our Revolution” better, rather than rejecting taking responsibility for what it becomes?
Won’t our handwringing about election fever and our worry about Sanders lacking long-term wisdom be rendered hypocritical if we only write about election fever while offering no new long-term wisdom – even if we are admirably hard at work on other worthy projects?
“Our Revolution” could fail to form. Less extreme, and more likely, “Our Revolution” could live but become little more than a progressive electoral tool. But should experienced leftists predict those outcomes and then watch from the sidelines, hoping our predications prove correct? Wouldn’t that be us, and not Sanders, being inadequate?
However unlikely you may consider it, “Our Revolution” could also conceivably become a lasting democratic participatory organization preserving and enriching the remarkable upsurge of desire that has been the Sanders campaign.
Is the role of left writers, alternative media, and left activists only to report what Sanders offers his most loyal and eager supporters? Is our role to then dismiss “Our Revolution” if it falls short of what we deem optimal without our having done anything to help it become optimal? Or should we try to contribute?
And if our role should be to contribute, shouldn’t there be a dozen, or even dozens, of essays by now about what “Our Revolution” can be?
Maybe people feel doubtful about the worth of such writing, but isn’t there a reasonable chance that an outpouring of interest and creative thought would positively impact what happens? Shouldn’t that be sufficient to motivate involvement?
Indeed, shouldn’t all kinds of progressives and radicals be thinking about what we want and how to help create it, as compared to a subset of us only to hearing ratifying what Sanders and a few others who have been working on “Our Revolution” want?
We bemoan those who succumb to the great man theory of social change, but isn’t that what we are succumbing to – whether with hope or doubt – when we are quiet about our own ideas for “our Revolution”?
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I had hoped that by now a serious and critically supportive but highly activist and radical discussion of the possible future of Sanders’ organizational effort would have begun. I thought experienced radical activists and writers would be offering ideas for what the organization ought to seek, for how it should fight, and perhaps most important, for how it should be organized. I thought people would be throwing at least some of their energies and creativity into defining and empowering the endeavor, rather than simply waiting to see what Sanders offers, like he alone matters, or even ignoring it entirely, as if both Sanders and 2,000 house parties of people who want to become involved are irrelevant.
Hopefully the needed energy, creativity, and public involvement of experienced radicals is merely delayed a bit, but will soon happen.
Ideally, new organization should emerge from well-organized neighborhoods and workplaces proposing wonderful structure and program that other neighborhoods and workplaces then refine and ratify, but, alas, we are not there yet. So Sanders will do what he and no one else can do and give a new organization early definition and a major degree of national visibility and momentum. But will his initial definition, if it persists, cause “Our Revolution” members to merely follow a limited agenda imposed from above? Or will his initial definition, if it persists, facilitate “Our Revolution” grassroots members to freely develop a bottom-up structure and determine their own program?
Any progressive activist can list many debits to avoid. Here are a few I bet we can agree on.
- We don’t want an organization that believes it possesses the one right way to do things and that stifles internal dissent while becoming outwardly arrogant and sectarian, but neither do we want an organization that is so timid it never takes a controversial stand.
- We don’t want an organization that continually suffers a paralysis of excessive analysis due to academically habituated egos each seeking their own validation, but neither do we want an organization that pursues action for action’s sake without assessing consequences for those directly affected.
- We don’t want an organization that turns inward to celebrate its current size instead of turning outward to further enlarge its current size, but neither do we want an organization that ignores the well being of its own members.
- We don’t want an organization that fails to address race, gender, sexuality, class, ecology, or war and peace in the name of pursuing one or more of the other focuses more vigorously, but neither do we want an organization that adopts an inflexible line immune to debate.
- We don’t want an organization that adopts top-down structure, thereby becoming both disinclined and ill equipped to seek political revolution, but neither do we want an organization that celebrates structurelessness, mistaking it for real participation and democracy.
But having determined what we don’t want, what are some virtues to attain?
- We want an organization that emphasizes grassroots involvement but has national scope.
- We want an organization that improves members’ lives and solidifies their involvement, constantly enlarging their number and commitment.
- We want an organization that fosters patient audacity and not apocalyptic passivity and that employs multi-issue, multi-tactic creativity and celebrates diversity whenever different options can be simultaneously sensibly pursued.
- We want an organization that feels urgency but seeks longevity of conception and execution.
- And we want an organization whose structure and practice continually plant seeds of the future in the present, including, as possible, moving toward participatory democratic decisionmaking.
Do we want any of the debits rejected above? Do we reject any of the virtues favored above? If so, perhaps we can talk through the issues. But if we agree on the above debits and assets, might we also agree on some choices for structure that will further our hopes?
Here are some possibilities.
- “Our Revolution” could include at-large members but emphasize local chapters as face-to-face venues of discussion, debate, and program development.
- “Our Revolution” could have local policy and campaigns locally decided using procedures local chapters settle on.
- “Our Revolution” could have national policy and campaigns nationally decided by democratic vote after effective discussion and debate.
- “Our Revolution” could welcome and facilitate internal dissent, and even when collectively pursuing a majority position, “Our Revolution” members could be welcomed to explore minority options.
- “Our Revolution” could support campaigns of other organizations and movements as well as seeking support for its own while always assuming it has much to learn from what others believe.
- “Our Revolution” could prioritize improving itself and could reject reflexively defending current commitments. It could respect those who disagree with “Our Revolution” and prioritize communicating with them.
- “Our Revolution” could equally prioritize race, gender, class, ecology, and war and peace and allot organizational attention to each, including having internal caucuses for associated constituencies to take the lead in generating proposals for issues bearing most directly on them even as they also guard against residual oppressive dynamics perverting internal choices.
- “Our Revolution” could emphasize membership empowerment by prioritizing mechanisms for members developing, sharing, and disseminating analysis, vision, skills, and confidence.
- “Our Revolution” could actively pursue both local and national electoral and activist program ratified by its membership without letting either focus crowd out the other.
Dear Bernie, will you and whoever is working with you on “Our Revolution” establish democratically updatable structure so the organization’s members can define their own program and continually determine rather than passively accept program and structure defined by others? I fervently hope so.
Dear us, will we who have favored Sanders up to this point, if the choices above are mostly made, sign on to calmly, patiently, and flexibly, but also militantly and unrelentingly advance “Our Revolution’s” definition and promise? How could we not?
But, dear us, what if whoever is working on “Our Revolution” instead establishes a structure that will, if not altered, obstruct the virtues we desire? Will we then dismiss “Our Revolution” and ignore or even attack it? I hope not. Will we passively accept its initial definition without seeking corrections? I hope not. Will we instead respectfully argue for democracy, participation, and breadth of focus? I hope so.
In our conflicted and tortured world, it may well turn out that the initial plan for “Our Revolution” is overwhelmingly to channel donations to Sanders-selected candidates via a structure that largely mirrors existing top-down political parties. That is certainly the kind of approach that flows very naturally from an electoral campaign. Such a proposal could be well meaning, and could have many positive effects, but it would nonetheless fall far short of current potentials.
In that case, dear us, shouldn’t consistent Sanders supporters, progressives, and leftists of all kinds forego destructive recriminations and instead constructively pursue the political revolution Sanders has proposed all along? Shouldn’t we all, collectively, revolutionize “Our Revolution”? And shouldn’t we all, collectively, work within a worthy “Our Revolution” to revolutionize the polity and society around us?
And, Dear Bernie, will you welcome just that response?