The 2016 presidential race is evolving into one of the most exciting (and dangerous) political events in American history. With an avowed socialist challenging the New Democrats and a narcissist billionaire confronting the establishment Republicans there will be, undoubtedly, tens of millions of disgruntled voters following the election.
If Hillary Clinton manages to secure the Democratic nomination, millions of unhappy--primarily young--supporters of Bernie Sanders will be looking for a cause. If Donald Trump loses in the primary, or is defeated in the general, his angry followers will be ready to revolt. If no candidate obtains a majority vote in the Electoral College, and the president and vice president are selected by Congress, the entire electorate will be marginalized--and thoroughly disgusted.
United by the willful failure of their government to respond to their needs, all of these people are being primed to take action. What can be done to mobilize and energize the anger and discontent of the People for effective political change? Young people around the world have been at the vanguard of recent mass political movements. Are the students of America willing and capable of leading a peaceful uprising in the United States to compel the constitutional changes required to transform their government?
Around the World. One of the most amazing things to come out of the Colombian civil war was the Children's Mandate, an election in support of peace organized by the children of a nation being torn apart by war. Starting with a gathering of just 26 young people, 2.7 million children voted on October 25, 1996 for 12 basic rights including justice, a clean environment, peace, love, and family. One year later, the children were joined by 10 million adults who voted for peace.
Commencing in Tunisia, the Arab Spring youth movement swept through the Middle East between 2010 and 2012, resulting in changes in the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. A number of other nations in the region also experienced massive protests.
Although Western governments played a role in its instigation, the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014 commenced with massive protests against the government and led to a near civil war before the government capitulated and its leadership fled the country. The new government immediately sought closer ties with the European Union, and Russia began a process of destabilization that continues to this day.
Following England's surrender of its territorial rights to Hong Kong in 1997, the city-state was accorded a special status allowing it to retain its laws, currency, and local government, while the People's Republic of China assumed responsibility for military and diplomatic affairs. Differences over the nomination process for its legislative council and chief executive led to a massive youth-led peaceful movement in 2014. Organized by students, the Umbrella Revolution occupied the city center and defied the Chinese government for more than two months.
Most recently, on Sunday March 13, 2016, 3.5 million Brazilians participated in anti-government rallies across the nation seeking the ouster of the current president and arrest of the previous leader. Confronted with a deep economic recession and widespread political corruption, the spontaneous protests were diverse and consisted of a broad range of people fed up with their "horrible" government. Would such a protest movement be possible in the United States?
Back in the U.S.A. Commencing in America and England and spreading throughout the Western world, the counterculture of the Sixties brought beneficial social and political changes in the United States--many of which are now being challenged and reversed by the economic and political elite that has seized power in America. Primarily focused on its opposition to the war in Vietnam, the counterculture insurgency mostly involved disaffected middle-class young people who were disenchanted with the direction of the nation and its government. In addition to substantial improvements including Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, Voters' Rights Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, the movement also forced the end of the military draft in 1973.
Most amazing, for purposes of this paper, was the 26th Amendment in 1971 which lowered the voting age to 18. Having built momentum throughout the Sixties, the proposal to allow 18-year-olds to vote in all national elections was passed by Congress on March 23, 1971. The Amendment was sent to the states and ratified four months later.
The illusion of prosperity resulting from Reaganomics, the arrival of the "Me" and "Gen-X" generations, and general disinterest in government all contributed to an overall decline in political involvement, particularly by young people. This began to change during the presidential election of 2004, when Vermont Governor Howard Dean challenged Senator John Kerry, the establishment candidate, for the Democratic nomination. Although he failed to secure the nomination, Dean pioneered Internet-based fund raising from small donors and net-roots organizing--which Barack Obama took advantage of four years later in his campaign.
Democratic victories for the White House and Congress in 2008 contributed to the rise of the Tea Party, which initially opposed Obama's plan to provide financial aid to bankrupt homeowners. The ultra-conservative grassroots movement organized opposition to the entire administration agenda and began to influence the election of local, state, and federal Republicans. Current presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz is a darling of the Tea Party.
Inspired by the Arab Spring movement and concerned about social and economic inequality, primarily progressive young people began to "occupy" public places around the world in 2011. The best known of these in the United States was Zuccotti Park in New York City, and within months there were occupations in many American cities and towns. Committed to nonviolence and united by the slogan, "We are the 99%," the struggle relied on emerging web technologies and social media to spread its message; however, there was an aversion to any structured organization. Relying on "participatory democracy," working groups considered most issues, and decisions were collectively made by the general assembly at each location. A primary criticism of the movement was the absence of clearly defined goals, and, without leadership, most occupations ended within a few months.
Although the Tea Party and Occupy movements never gained significant political traction on their own, both have had an influence on the 2016 presidential election, particularly the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Each in their own way, using both the new and old media, have organized campaigns that challenge the established political parties.
The 2016 Campaign. Previously an independent who caucused with the Democratic Party, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders became a candidate in the Democratic primary as a Democratic Socialist determined to focus attention on the failures of militarism and big business to address the true needs of the nation. Initially believed to have a role only in pressuring Hillary Clinton--the establishment candidate--toward more progressive positions, Sanders' campaign made full use of the organizational structure pioneered by Howard Dean, and the Internet funding strategies of Barack Obama, to create a highly effective national campaign. Eschewing contributions from political action committees, lobbyists, corporations, and financial institutions, Sanders is now consistently raising more money than Clinton, primarily in small amounts from millions of individual donors. While Clinton has a lead in the delegate count, particularly when the establishment super delegates are included, Sanders has at this point won eight of the last nine primaries and is leading in national polls. Continued success could force a brokered convention in Philadelphia during the last week of July. At the minimum, we can expect a massive demonstration of support for Sanders and the principles he has espoused, both inside and outside the convention.