The next American revolution has already begun

There is a phenomenon in political philosophy described as a “revolutionary wave.” Time and again throughout history, revolutions in one country have spread beyond its borders and influenced upheaval in neighboring lands.

The Enlightenment ideals of liberty and justice which so famously motivated the American Revolution of 1776 did not remain constrained within America’s borders. Rather, they spread to Mexico and Haiti and Argentina and Bolivia, liberating much of Latin America from Spanish imperialism. The year 1848 is often referred to as the Spring of Nations,” and sometimes more bluntly as “the Year of Revolution.” In this year, a revolution in France led to subsequent revolutions — all founded on nationalistic principles and an opposition to old monarchies — in Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Poland and much of the rest of Europe.

Revolutionary waves are by no means restricted to the distant annals of history. The fall of the Soviet Union came about due to a domino effect that the American government was undoubtedly overjoyed to witness. From 1989 to 1991, former Soviet republics — Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and others — declared their independence and abandoned communism one by one in an era labelled by astute historians as “the Fall of Nations.” More recently, the Arab Spring challenged dictators from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as citizens reacted to autocratic rule, economic ruin and political corruption by pouring into the streets by the thousands.

Governments throughout history have failed to devise any barrier that can consistently and successfully prevent revolutionary consciousness from permeating their borders. Ideas, unlike goods or people, can pass through the tiniest of cracks and prosper in any climate. This, then, begs the question: Why has America remained immune? In the nearly two-and-a-half centuries which have elapsed since our own revolution, countless revolutionary waves have swept around the world and left the American system unaffected.

Furthermore, as evidenced by France, one revolution doesn’t always get the job done. That the issues raised during the political turmoil of the 1960s (itself part of a failed revolutionary wave that also gripped Europe) remain all too relevant today — racial injustice, militarism, political exclusion — make it abundantly clear that America is not done redefining the terms and conditions of its social contract.

Arab Spring protest, via Wikimedia Commons

Arab Spring protest, via Wikimedia Commons

Our present era is characterized by mass political resistance. Like their counterparts in the Arab world, Americans are rising up against their rulers. Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement gained a great deal of support by offering an outlet for Americans to speak out against a government dominated by corporate interests.  The Black Lives Matter movement erupted into violence in Ferguson and Baltimore as citizens expressed their frustration with a system designed to promote and protect the perpetrators of racist violence. The economic populism of the current Fight for $15 movement has brought thousands into the streets in cities across America. Last September, over three hundred thousand people occupied New York for the People’s Climate March. Bernie Sanders is even using the language of “political revolution” to describe his presidential campaign’s focus on mitigating economic inequality. There is no shortage of issues for which countless Americans feel the need to speak up; and they will continue to get louder until they are heard.

An utter lack of political options motivates these recent movements. Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the two party system and the American system of government as a whole, with only 26% of Americans believing that “the two major parties adequately represent Americans.” A call for bipartisanship is utterly useless when neither party is willing or able to address serious and legitimate grievances that are shared throughout America and the rest of the world.

What is needed is a break from the false dichotomy of the two party system in favor of a new system: A system that is more receptive and responsive to the needs of the nation. A system in which people of principle can seek office without fear of being ground up by one of two party machines. A system in which the will of the American people cannot be trumped by any force — be it corporate or political.

This new system requires a new American revolution. For both moral and practical reasons, this revolution cannot be violent. But as the fall of the Soviet Union demonstrated, extensive political restructuring is possible through purely peaceful democratic means. As it exists today, the American system is entirely incompatible with the democratic ideals upon which it was ostensibly founded. A political revolution is the solution to the countless problems plaguing America today. The strength of American political resistance in the last few years is proof that this revolution has already begun.

Raghav Sharma is a writer, filmmaker, and political activist studying at the University of Pittsburgh. He writes on electoral and campaign finance issues, foreign policy, and economic affairs.

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