Protest or Revolution?

john nichols

John Nichols

While waiting to see if my area of Illinois actually will skip the winter season, I basked in the warmth triggered by two new books about revolutions.

Are the events in Wisconsin and elsewhere merely a last flicker of protest or the beginning of a new revolution for social justice?

John Nichols, in Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, from Madison to Wall Street, argues that the Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street protests all across this country signal “a renewal of labor militancy, mass protest, and radical politics.”

Citizens of all ages, he believes, have discovered the power contained within the Madison-Jefferson tradition of active citizenship, and they intend to compel their government to redress their grievances.

One primary grievance, according to Nichols, is the arrogant overreaching of ideological conservatives like Governor Scott Walker and his billionaire backers.

Yet this direct threat to positive progress that was hard won in a revolution and through two centuries of labor struggle stirred many citizens from their distracted torpor and propelled them into the streets to defend their rights and their family histories.

Paul Mason, in Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions, traces how “the near collapse of free-market capitalism combined with an upswing in technical innovation, a surge in desire for individual freedom and a change in human consciousness about what freedom means” has created a global dynamic in which one uprising triggers another and all of them are unleashing “a great river of human hope.”

Mason’s book is distinctive because he grapples with the historical reality that after the revolutions, lifting large groups of people from poverty generally has taken decades or even centuries of wrenching economic dislocation. Even if the new democracies survive or the power of corrupt plutocrats is counterbalanced again, reformers will need new ideas and better models to prevent decades of suffering for millions, perhaps billions, of people.

paul mason

Paul Mason

Where might these new ideas come from? Not from status quo leaders or reactionaries, that is certain, but perhaps from the great mass of the citizenry that currently sits on the political sidelines.

Bill Gates, in a recent interview with Tom Friedman, asserted that we somehow need to get more “technocratic logic” into our policy debates. We need political officeholders or candidates, perhaps third-party or independent candidates, to insert basic arithmetic and simple facts back into our policy debates.

The idea is that if more American citizens understood the true difficulty of our problems or the precariousness of our national situation, then the leaders of the two major parties might be forced into pragmatic compromises.

The hopes and dreams enacted by protesters around the world and recorded in words by writers like Nichols and Mason ultimately will fade unless many more citizens reinforce this protesting vanguard by participating actively in the pursuit of social justice.

More citizens will need to run for offices and turn their creative energies toward the discovery of new ways to afflict the unconcerned powerful.

So finish reading this column, and then tweet with a deeper purpose than the pursuit of fame. Or find the phone number of one of your political representatives on the Internet. Call the number and make a progressive argument. Attend a protest. Post a statement on YouTube. Take a family member to vote with you during the next election. Ask your dentist or doctor if they accept Medicaid patients and, if they don’t, give your business to a different one next time. Write an opinion letter to your local newspaper.

Then do it again tomorrow, and the day after, and every day, until the society we inhabit again resembles a land of opportunity, where the wealthy pay at least the same tax rates as the middle class and all people willing to work hard can earn a decent living for themselves and their dependents.

When that day comes, you will recognize it. Our government no longer will function as a crude tool that the unscrupulous wealthy use to loot from the citizenry; instead, it will excel as an engine of justice that protects and propels all of us into a better future.

Nick Capo

Change and Progress 

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