How Bernie Sanders and Occupy Wall Street Cracked Open America’s Political Imagination

A shift is happening outside the spotlight of the corporate media and our rigged political system. Socialism was the most looked-up word in the Webster dictionary last year. A recent poll conducted by Harvard says a majority of millennials do not support capitalism – and 48% believe healthcare is a right. Bernie Sanders and his supporters are taking on establishment politics and widening political imagination. The impact of movements like Occupy Wall Street continues to ripple across America, transforming movement strategies and entrenched beliefs. The battle around the US ballot box could be narrowing, but the longer war of hearts and minds is still wide open.

In many ways, the influence of Occupy Wall Street is all around us. “Occupy has entered our DNA. It is in our forms of relating, organizing and being,” activist and author Marina Sitrin wrote in 2014 on how the DNA of occupy has traveled, changed, and multiplied in many social movements. “No longer seen with the occupation of parks, plazas and squares, Occupy has relocated, it is in us, it is in our ways of being, relating and coming together. People are changed—feel more dignity and organize for a different world because of it,” Sitrin explained. “We have created a new generation of organizers/activists who are not part of a movement to win one thing and then declare victory, but a movement that is about changing everything. And little by little this is happening.”

One result of Occupy has clearly been the candidacy and popularity of Bernie Sanders. And thanks largely to Sanders’ efforts, terms like socialism, capitalism, the 1%, and oligarchy have been further popularized and widely understood. Millions of people have been empowered to hear from a leading candidate that access to education, healthcare, and dignity in the workplace are rights, not privileges. Sanders’ incredible history lesson on war criminal Henry Kissinger in a debate with Hillary Clinton in February is just one example of how much he is expanding American political consciousness. Even if Sanders loses this primary race, the popular education he’s providing against the grain of the corporate media and our imperial amnesia is planting seeds for social change that reach beyond the US electoral circus.

Ben Dangl is the editor of Twitter:@bendangl