A political revolution doesn’t start from the top. Look back at comparable history, and see that it just doesn’t. In fact, our democracy is structured exactly to prevent that kind of thing. A “political revolution” (and I’m hesitant to even refer to it that way, due to the very radical connotation of the word “revolution”) can only occur through sustained, consistent, diligent advocacy, starting at the local level (which hardly sounds revolutionary at all, does it?). For “revolution” to happen, you (and many others like you) have to have a little skin in the game, and you have to keep it there day in and day out, in perpetuity. (“Committed citizen advocacy” is the least sexy campaign platform ever, which might be one reason why you never hear about it.)
Any candidate who is telling you otherwise—that your best effort at inciting a political revolution is electing them as President—is taking advantage of your naiveté (at best), and straight up lying to you (at worst). It’s manipulation, regardless of the intentions of the candidate’s heart.
Before I go further: yes, I’m obviously thinking of Bernie Sanders as I write this, but he’s not the first, and certainly won’t be the last. The peddlers of this “revolution from the top” fantasy come from all backgrounds and affiliations (I’ve voted for them!), and I truly believe that in their hearts, they have positive intentions. But I’m not here to talk about intentions. I’m here to talk about reality, and what it takes from normal people day-to-day to incite the “revolution” we appear to so desperately desire.
It’s partially our fault that Sanders (and others before him/after him) have/will peddle this fantasy. I’m speaking in general here, but we’re a people who believe in quick fixes. We believe the results earned from a truncated process can be just as good (if not better!) than results achieved through committed, continual effort. We dishonor process, and venerate outcome. We (again, generally speaking) are lazy in our political efforts, and would really love it if we could just vote for a surrogate to do the hard work for us. But like I’ve mentioned, our democracy is structured to prevent any one person from having too much power. The strength of our democracy—and your ability to be pleased with its outcomes—is directly tied to your own effort, which then becomes the cumulative effort of our people.
Wealthy people have understood this for literally ages. Our current political landscape is the result of years and years (generations, really) of focused, organized advocacy from people, families and organizations. Unhappy with the outcomes? Look to the people and organizations who are doing/funding this advocacy. They are harvesting the fruit of their effort, and the effort of their great-great grandparents. You cannot simply elect a President to untie this knot for you. The President, without thoughtful partners in the Senate and the House, is totally powerless to administer their own agenda. (Which is why, if you feel the need to participate at the bare-minimum level, I’d suggest getting really into your state elections. Stacking the House and Senate with your people is a better bang-for-your-buck.)
So what if you’re not wealthy? (That would be most of us.) Without the advantages that often come with wealth (time, money, education, “influence,” etc.), how does one assert themselves in this process? The first step is to stay informed. Personally, I’d start locally, since you have way better chances of making meaningful change on a local level. (Sometimes it can even come quickly!)
So if your primary concern is your local schools (just for example), start there. Learn when/where meetings are held, read the agendas in advance, do your best to understand their current circumstances, and apply pressure where you need to. This can be as easy as making phone calls and sending emails, which you can do regardless of your work schedule. Tell other parents at your children’s school about your concerns. See where they stand. Get their support when you can. You can even draft suggested correspondence and share it with other parents, to better enable them to get engaged.
Sometimes phone calls and emails aren’t enough. Sometimes you need to band together with other likeminded people to better make your voice heard. That’s where local advocacy groups can be very effective. So if your concern is small business growth in your town, join your local Chamber of Commerce, and make sure you get to know their governmental affairs representative. Learn what issues concern them and their membership, and speak up when you have time to do so. Bring others like you into their fold.
Sometimes there isn’t an advocacy group for your particular interest, so you have to start one. This requires more effort, but is totally within your grasp. (I ran across this paper called Community Organizing: People Power from the Grassroots, and I really like the “10 rules of community organizing” outlined in it.) Look at neighboring towns for examples, and if you can’t find any semi-local examples, look statewide, and nationally. I can guarantee you there is a model out there for you to emulate/be inspired by. Contact the leaders of those organizations and get their advice on first steps.
You get the idea. It takes effort. Bernie Sanders isn’t going to drive to your town to make sure your children get adequate outdoor recess time, or make sure there’s affordable housing for young families in your community, or well-maintained bike trails, etc. But if you engage locally on issues that matter to you, and support the candidates who align with your interest, eventually, you’ll see change. The reason you’re not happy with the current outcomes is because the current outcomes haven’t been influenced by your voice, and the countless other voices like yours.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can take a pass on engagement, and the President of the United States of America will do the hard work for you. They would if they could, but they literally can’t. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the ultimate expression of your power is your single, solitary vote for President every four years. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking you can upend the political establishment—built on generations of committed citizen advocacy—as easily as casting a ballot. There are no shortcuts. Your “I Voted” sticker does not get you off the hook. You will only get as much out of a “political revolution” as you personally put in.