Written with Helen A Berger, PhD, resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and author of A Community of Witches.
After the revolution....I remember having so many conversations with friends in the late 1960s about this. We would get a cheap bottle of Chianti and drink and talk and spin such wonderful dreams--the wine, the talk, the camaraderie, and the hope--it was all exhilarating. I still miss it, but I subsequently learned in a sociology course that this was what Karl Marx called Utopian socialism, which Bob Marley so beautifully described as "pie in the sky by and by." And here we are again another century; another revolution. The thought of it is exciting filled with possibilities, but this time I would like to see those possibilities not remain dreams but become a new reality, a better society.
So what is the plan? How do we get to our better, although, I am sure, still imperfect, world? Well, it is going to take sustained work from all of us, or at least most of us. Change does not come easily or cheaply. The cost of this change is doing a lot of tedious but necessary work and forming coalitions with people we may not agree with on all issues. Politics is a messy and tiring business--but it is how change happens. If you really want the revolution you need to be committed to making it happen.
What we need now are progressives at all levels of government, including the lowest levels of local government. These are often not exciting jobs, nor jobs that give you glory, but they are the routes to gaining a greater say in how the rules are made and to being in a position to make change. We have learned this election season that many of the election rules are made by the parties on the local level. We need progressives to join the Democratic Party, do the work, and be there to make the decisions. We have also learned that many laws that affect people's lives and that determine if they even get to vote are made at the local level and again we need progressives there.
Local government is also the minor leagues for politicians. It is an easy place to start as the barriers to entry are few and it gives you name recognition. Bernie began as Mayor of Burlington, Vt., which had fewer than 40,000 people when be he ran for office.
So how to begin? We have six suggestions: Do any or all of these if you can but at least do #6.
1. Find out when your local Democratic Party meeting is and go. There are no credentials required and no fee. Just show up and start doing some of the work. They need participants and you will quickly move up in status and be asked to do more.
2. Join a study or work group in your local community. For example, most towns have zoning committees, and you can make a real difference in helping to create affordable housing or more of a tax base or join the local traffic study group and make room for more bikes and begin saving the environment. Town and city governments also need volunteers and provide a good entry level position for then running for City or Town Council.
3. Attend the Democratic Caucuses to elect the delegates for the conventions. Make your presence known to the candidates running and support your favorite. The times and places are normally online. Only the faithful attend, you demonstrate your commitment. Usually these caucuses take a couple of hours only.
4. Join regulatory committees on the local level. These are equally as tedious as they are very important. It is where all those pesky rules that end up making things possible or not are made.
5. When new laws are passed on the state or local level, go to the town, city or state house and find out who is writing the regulations for a particular law, contact them and be part of that process. The devil is in the details and you need to be part of creating those details.
6. Vote. Yes, going out and voting matters. For better or worse, we have a two party system and whether you choose to vote for one of the two people on the ballot in November, who are in the major parties or not, you are choosing politicians--passively by not voting and directly by doing your bit.
There were many things that brought us George W. Bush and his tax breaks for the very wealthy and the Iraq war, but among those things was a protest vote which stopped the first serious environmental candidate for president, Al Gore, from winning. Purists! The Green Party didn't want to make any compromises and let what they believed was the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Of course, we can't forget the role of the Supreme Court that stopped the recount either. Now again the Supreme Court is up for grabs--this will influence the laws for the next 40 years or possibly longer.
No, everyone who disagrees with you is not the same. Real people, who are gay, who are poor, who are Muslim, who are immigrants, who have no health insurance, and pregnant women who just can't for whatever reason have this fetus become a child are relying on each of us. And no, it is not better for them to have pie in the sky by and by. We need to take responsibility for our actions--we vote for the possible or we don't vote and we let the anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, take control of the country and the Supreme Court.
The choice is yours and mine. We then work first on the local level and then, on the state and national for the more progressive changes. Change doesn't happen magically, it is a slog of hard and boring work, with some moments of excitement. As in any renovation project it is easy to tear down, but much harder to build up. We can easily destroy, but to truly bring revolution we need to build and we need to work with others, even those with whom we don't always agree. So do If you really want that revolution, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty doing the actual work of politics.