Source: The Guardian Unlimited
Obama showed that a charismatic leader with big ideas doesn’t automatically bring big change – we need people to raise their voices and take to the streets
I was caucusing for Bernie Sanders at Washington State’s Democratic event last month, but when I stood up to speak to my peers, I found that I wasn’t specifically praising Sanders himself.
Rather, I spoke passionately about our need in this country for political imagination and for vibrant grassroots movements. Though I’m rooting for a Sanders presidency, it’s even more important that the ideals spurred by his movement continue, with or without him at the helm.
Political imagination is something that is often missing from the candidate platforms of both major parties. We hear candidates talk about the need to be “pragmatic”, to “meet in the middle” or “take incremental steps”. It’s not surprising that many voters, especially young ones, start to tune out. In the face of the enormous social and environmental problems, it’s not pandering to be visionary about the world we want to live in – it’s absolutely essential.
Bernie Sanders is talking about ambitious, progressive ideas – universal healthcare, free college education, expanding social security, dramatically reining in the power of corporations. His ideas about overhauling our healthcare system are particularly attractive for me, since my six-year-old son has a significant physical disability that requires extensive interaction with our failing insurance-based system.
At the same time, it’s encouraging to see Hillary Clinton tacking left, possibly because of Sanders’ outspoken liberalism, condemning mass incarceration and speaking strongly in support of large public investment in communities – mostly black and brown – that have seen historic disinvestment. That real solutions to our country’s deep-seated problems around income inequality, institutional racism and climate change, among other things, are being put forward in the context of a major party nominating process is as surprising as it is profound.
But we can’t kid ourselves and think that just because some presidential candidates promise to address an issue that it will come to pass. If Barack Obama’s election taught us anything, it is that placing our hopes and dreams in the hands of a charismatic leader is not enough to bring about significant social change; to do that, we need organized people in the streets. We need powerful social movements.
The main critique of Sanders, a constant drumbeat in the mainstream media, is that he won’t be able to accomplish what he proposes, that he’s all vision with no plan of how to get there. But this critique misses the point. People force change and get things done, not politicians acting alone.