It was a perfect script. Hillary, the anointed corporate candidate, would have a safe warm-up against a 74-year-old Jewish Socialist with a Brooklyn accent while a freak show of Right-wing loonies duked it out in the GOP before striding, eminently Presidential, between this unelectable Left and unelectable Right and right into the Oval Office.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC), Liberal Media, Big Banks and Multinationals, and decades worth of political allies were all lined up to make it happen.
But voters went off the reservation.
Hillary is an agent of the Corporate State par excellence—a Good Cop to the Republican Bad Cop. Her strengths are her ability to navigate a corrupt system and to stave off the Republicans at the gates. Quashing her bid and electing a president who has taken no money from Wall Street is more than merely symbolic: it is concrete proof of our collective power and a first step toward ridding our government of corporate puppets.
An election is not a revolution—at best it can be reform—and the forces working today at the heart of Empire, even against reform, are formidable. Deep structural change against the interests of entrenched power will not come easily. Yet, due to a conjunction of historical factors—the rise of a new generation, the Internet, debt and disillusion with the status quo and Old Media—Bernie Sanders’ call to roll back corporate domination of our economic and political system has resonated in a way that seems to have taken the power structure completely by surprise. His narrative that the game is rigged has furthermore played out before the voters in the starkest terms, making the race itself a veritable parable of popular insurgency against elite control. This is no longer an ordinary political race but an insurrection opportunity.
But isn’t this always how it happens? In Tunisia, it was the self-immolation of a street-vender; in Turkey, plans to build a shopping mall in a green space; in Brazil a bus fare hike. But, as Samba singer Seu Jorge sang: “It’s not the 20 cents we’re fighting for” (“não é pros 20 centavos que estamos lutando”). It never is. These trigger issues are metaphors that encapsulate some aspect of a deeper problem and focus popular energy like a magnate does sunlight. When these opportunities happen, they go viral, as it becomes clearer to more people that the Revolution is over here.
One of the biggest mistakes analysts across the spectrum are making is to assume that this campaign is about Bernie Sanders, or that its primary goal is to elect him. We tried that eight years and we know it doesn’t work. No one can save us from the Oval Office. This election is not about personalities; it’s about an idea. It’s not about who will make a “better” President; it’s about the structural dysfunction of our entire system. The elite has not simply won the game; they write the rules. Our economy is rigged to funnel wealth to them and our politics are rigged to funnel power to them. Wealth and power reinforce each other in a positive feedback loop, cutting out the rest of us. The only way out is to take back our own power to write the rules, and that’s what this election has become about. Our only hope is to build a real popular movement. And the Sanders candidacy is our best chance to do that over the next nine months.
The American Revolution was a revolt against the power of Kings. Now we must revolt against the power of CEOs, Boards of Directors and controlling shareholders. When private individuals control government, we cannot speak of Democracy. Until the day when politicians are in jail for taking millions from Wall Street, wealth concentration, mass incarceration, perpetual war, invasive spying, police militarization, erosion of our civil liberties and wanton destruction of our planet will all march, along with the ongoing ascendency of corporate power.
Four years ago, we occupied a square. Now we’re occupying a Party. We knew and know very well that both are elite-owned, but that’s what occupation is all about. The real Revolution cannot be contained by a party or a park: it is fluid, amorphous, assuming the form that the moment demands—and thus, it is unstoppable. It will coalesce wherever it sees an opportunity. It is not up to us to choose those opportunities, but to recognize them. If the DNC fails us, we will move on. If Sanders fails us, we will move on.
So to those who voice perfectly legitimate criticisms of Sanders, I can only plead that they not overlook the broader opportunity presented by this candidacy; to see, not the candidate, but the millions of people being mobilized around this message—what is in fact the Occupy message. Naming the problem is not nothing. When Occupy named it, the media said it had no message. Now the message is being articulated in a way that cannot be ignored. This is our King’s New Clothes moment and it’s worth the next nine months of our lives. A line has been drawn: either name and oppose power directly or stay stuck within the logic of a rigged oligarchic system. Choose your side.
Author: Peter Cohen
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Phil Roeder