On November 8th we were issued a sobering historical reminder that social change is often not slow, incremental, or small at all. As rightful anger and disillusionment is seized to institute authoritarian, corporatist, and white supremacist agendas, progressives' best weapon is to think and mobilize around big, transformative, and galvanizing change.
Our collective imaginations can no longer be narrowed and defined by the ideologues of "centrist" neoliberal politics. For decades neoliberal commonsense has asserted that "there is no alternative" to organizing all domains of human life by way of capitalist profit maximization. It is said that small bits of justice and liberation are possible here and there, but that the fundamental drivers of unprecedented wealth concentration and planetary destruction are immutable.
As capitalism's ruins reach new proportions, fascism and xenophobia, more extreme austerity and neoliberalism, and fattened empire are all scrambling to claim power from crisis. This is a historic moment of decision. The only alternative to increasing violence, division, and environmental chaos is to get at the underlying compulsions of an anti-democratic, radically unequal, and dangerously unsustainable economy.
There are plenty of pathways to begin to evolve towards an economy structured to meet human needs and cultivate human freedoms. We don't need an entire blueprint to start to end the marketization of everything. An immediate agenda might include free health care and education, a livable universal basic income, bringing the banks under popular democratic control, freeing government from its capture by money, democratic worker ownership of workplaces, leaping from a fossil-fuel economy to a renewable green economy, reducing the work week to also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cancelling student debt, liberating intellectual commons from pirate privatization, forcing corporations to pay for the pollution "externalities" they profit from, etc, etc.
These types of proposals that start to move society out of the neoliberal regime and reverse the systematic siphoning of wealth to the already wealthy have the potential to generate widespread support, including from many voters who considered Trump the only "alternative" on the ballot.
Such proposals -- and system change generally -- are possible in real terms, but since the 1980s especially have been discredited as unrealistic or otherwise "impossible." Rather than continue to allow excessively pessimistic neoliberal rationality to define human possibility, progressives must seize the transformative demands of this historical juncture.
We are in largely uncharted territory, and much is up for grabs. The dogma of "no alternative" to neoliberal capitalism has been on shaky ground especially since the global financial crisis began in 2007. A rising post-capitalist tide has been marked by events across the Arab world, Occupy, anti-austerity movements in Europe, revolts against the market especially by the poor and hungry, and radical resource struggles.
In 2016, social movements are increasingly converging around demands for deep system change. Standing Rock Protectors, Black Lives Matters, Blockadia and climate justice, Idle No More, Fight For 15, Dreamers and immigrant rights, and many others, are pioneering essential solidarities and articulating the inseparability of inequality, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and environmental injustice.
Riding this swell of social movements, Bernie Sanders' campaign offered an alternative to more neoliberalism or nativist reactionism. It revealed strong left-wing sentiment in the bastion of capitalism, empire, and white supremacy. The progressive populism that erupted around the Sanders' campaign galvanized organizing and imagination that has the potential to reach far beyond the election cycle.
Millennials overwhelmingly voted for Sanders' "socialism," and then against Trump's xenophobia, racism, and misogyny. National polls since 2011 have consistently indicated that young people reject capitalism and are ready for alternatives.
More than just a silver lining of the past election, ballot initiative results across the U.S. indicate strong support for raising wages, unshackling money's grip over democracy, and changing racist drug policies. Steps to restrict the profit-motive in health care may have succeeded had not the pharmaceutical industry grossly manipulated debate with record campaign spending.
Events of 2016 stir both grief and inspiration.
Moving into 2017, the battle over what is considered possible in the social order is intensifying. Emergent democratic and egalitarian political visions must be expanded. They must assert that not only are we capable of different sorts of futures, but that system change is the only "realistic" option.
What unfolds in the organization of human societies is largely conditioned upon collective belief of what is possible. Our shared imaginations of capabilities and potentialities will greatly influence how we proceed through this historical juncture. The radical idea that we could build a society structured to democratically and sustainably meet human needs is immanent in our daily collective interactions. Mutual aid, cooperation, and care for others supply steady evidence that neoliberalism's logic of impossibility -- of "no alternative" to greed, competitive self-interest, and hierarchy -- is a fictitious cultural narrative. If our "human nature" is capable of a renewed future, our creative abilities can surely work out any design challenges.
Progressives cannot afford to be modest in the battle over the possible. We must be makers of new realities. These are revolutionary times. Big change is upon us. What remains to be seen is the direction of that change.