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Is the Sanders Candidacy Evidence of a Revolutionary Moment?

By       Message Fred McCann     Permalink
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Zuccotti Park
(image by The Guardian)

In October of 2011, I emerged from the PATH station beneath the former World Trade Center site and walked towards the Century 21 department store on Cortlandt Street. It was a familiar sensation; I used to work in the Trinity Centre, and this walk was nearly identical to the one I would make each morning on the way to work. Rather than continuing to my old office, I stopped in Zuccotti Park, which had been completely filled with protestors and an impressive tent city. It had been rechristened "Liberty Square". Staring up at the adjoining building I could see the window next to where I used to sit every weekday.

For weeks the media had been trying to explain what was happening at Liberty Square. Some had labeled it as the left's answer to the Tea Party. Other's derided the group as an aberrant neo-hippie movement. More common was to deride the leaderless movement as lacking demands or direction. Pundits, failing to understand what the event was, tried focusing on the participants. It was portrayed as a movement for entitled white young adults and students. The demonstrations were racist. The demonstrations were sexist.

Being in my late thirties and earning somewhere in the top 80th percentile at the time, I didn't fit the narrative. Neither did a lot of people in Liberty Square. I was a weekend occupier as I couldn't drop everything and bunk down in the park like the brave people in the tents. I did however do my part, supplying the encampment with food and supplies to prolong the action.

We weren't Democrats, in fact many of us were there in opposition of the Obama Administration's continuation of the Bush policy of making the banks whole at the expense of those who worked for a living - the 99%. The protest did not engage in the politics of the 2008 election. There were right wing libertarians in addition to left leaning populists, socialists, and anarchists- all in one place to say enough is enough.

Occupy Wall Street erupted into hundreds of demonstrations of various sizes. Occupiers weren't sending representatives to the press to communicate their point of view. We were live streaming over the internet without the filter of the media. Occupy was an undeniable physical manifestation of unrest in city after city.

We wondered if we were living in a revolutionary moment.

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The Occupy movement was defeated, or at least dispersed. Local police forces, acting in coordination with the Obama Administration's Department of Homeland Security put down the actions with violence and intimidation.

Revolutionary moments do occur, and most of them don't involve wars. We're currently living in the shadow of the last such moment in American history; the election of 1980. It's tempting to point to the election of Ronald Reagan as "the moment", as if the man had single handedly reshaped the country in his image. While we tend to remember the elections and lionize the elected, events like these are the crests of the wave; the result of a moment in history.

The nation had grown cynical after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. This sense of unease gave way to un utter distrust of the government after the failed war in Vietnam and the public disgrace of Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon. Through the sixties and seventies, the "silent majority" that Nixon had described had grown weary of a changing social landscape beset by various civil rights movements, unrest, and a growing, and largely racist, rejection of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs. The economic shock that often triggers the tipping point of such moments was the oil crisis of the 1970's.

The nation experienced an earlier revolutionary moment at the beginning of the 20th century resulting in the repeated elections of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the parlance used by Michael Moore in his documentary Sicko, the nation became a nation of "we". We were all in this together. It was the responsibility of the government to provide a basic standard of living for the people it represented.

All administrations after that moment operated in the long shadow of FDR and the last revolution. It wasn't until near the end of the 20th Century, forty-eight years since the first election of Roosevelt, that the nation lost faith in the power of a representative democracy. The last revolutionary moment in the United States was a tectonic shift of the zeitgeist towards individualism. Like FDR's election, Ronald Reagan's election was a product of the moment, not the cause. Everything changed slowly, gradually, then at these tipping points, they changed seemingly all at once.

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It's been thirty-five years since Reagan's election. Much as previous governments lived with the legacy of FDR, every modern American government has presided in the company of Ronald Reagan's ghost. While I was alive for the Carter administration, I don't possess any memory of a Democratic administration that bears any resemblance to what came before the last revolutionary moment.

The Clinton administration was not classically liberal, but rather a third-way administration. Mr. Clinton, as every other president, is a product of the times. Bill Clinton was operating in the "me" philosophy of Reaganism. Certainly there were positives to the Clinton presidency, but he also brought us the end of LBJ's Great Society. He presided over the deregulation of the banking sector, which was a precursor to the crisis of 2007. His neoliberal trade policies tore out the foundations of the working class' prosperity.

My political awakening started after the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush as president in 2000. When Bush was leading the nation to war in Iraq, I took part in the largest anti-war demonstrations in history. In 2004, I worked with the Green Party (and the Libertarian Party) to recount the vote in Ohio when it appeared as though yet another election had been stolen.

After the Wall Street meltdown that inflicted so much pain hit the nation in 2007, I thought that would have triggered our next revolutionary moment. I felt, as I believe many people felt, that the election of Barak Obama in 2008 was not just any ordinary election. I found myself asking if it was the result of the next revolutionary moment?

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Is the Sanders Candidacy Evidence of a Revolutionary Moment?