It's timid and fearful to limit ourselves to incremental change -- and it only makes the powerful more powerful
By Cat J. Zavis
Jan 29, 2016
I can appreciate the concern and fear underlying the words of John Avignone (“I have had it with naïve Bernie Sanders idealists”) and Paul Krugman (who wrote a piece in the NYT saying Sanders was not realistic and we can only hope for the incremental change proposed by Hilary Clinton) and others who are choosing to support Clinton, even though they want our country to move further to the ideals and values put forth by Bernie than those expressed by Hillary.
They articulate a fear that I have heard spoken by many – Bernie is not electable and if Bernie is the Democratic nomination, a Republican (i.e., Trump) will win and we will be in a very dangerous situation. Their solution is to support Hillary rather than rally behind a candidate who — yes, has shortcomings, as do all the candidates — is trying to build a movement that would be there to support his reform efforts. He recognizes that he cannot create the meaningful and systemic change he seeks for the betterment of our country and the world on his own.
There has been throughout history, and will continue to be, a battle between two competing approaches to social change and underlying that, two worldviews. On the one hand, we have the view of Clinton and her supporters – the realists. The realists (and many involved in social change work fall into this camp) argue that we have to fight for what is achievable because otherwise we will be way worse off. In this case that means cast your vote for Hillary because she is more “realistic,” and thus more likely to win. This is essentially casting a vote for the lesser evil. This approach to social and political change is steeped in fear. Those in this camp believe that the only way we can arrive where we want to get is through incremental (i.e., realistic) change. But what they fail to understand is that those with power and money define their definition of realistic. When we narrow our vision of what is possible to what those in power tell us is possible, we actually bolster their power.
But there’s a reason people limit their vision. Putting forth a vision for radical transformation is a vulnerable and scary leap of faith. Millions of people rallied behind Obama’s call for hope. He professed that we are one country, not a nation of blacks and whites, but all one. He promised to work across the political divide to find solutions to the pressing issues before him and our nation. Within months of being in office, after the collapse of the economic system, Obama chose to bail out Wall Street rather than help Main Street, even though it was Main Street that put him in the White House.
As his tenure in office continued, he implemented policies and approaches that were in direct conflict with his election message (failing to close Guantánamo or end the war in Afghanistan, to name a few). People who were inspired by his message and whose hopes were raised that they finally had a progressive president who would fight for their interests rather than the interests of the elite became disillusioned and disenchanted. Many withdrew from politics and/or became supporters of local efforts to work for “realistic” change believing that transformative, systemic change is “unrealistic.”
Rallying behind a movement and a leader, placing trust in someone who says they understand your struggles and will help you is a vulnerable act. When the person you put your trust in then fails to deliver, your hopes are dashed and you become skeptical and hopeless. This is what happened to millions of Obama supporters. This is a very uncomfortable feeling and many don’t want to experience those feelings again. So rather than go for their highest ideals, they convince themselves that their goals (and the goals of those who want the same thing) are “idealistic” (a derogatory term that somehow implies you are acting like a child) and that it is time to “grow up” and be realistic (i.e., an adult). They then project this judgment and frustration on those who remain hopeful that meaningful change is possible and try to convince others that they are right and the so-called idealists are not only idealistic but also spoilers.
But fortunately there are others who remain in the camp of idealists and Bernie Sanders is one of them, so are Elizabeth Warren, Robert Reich and the millions of people who agree with and are inspired by them, not to mention the prophets and spiritual leaders throughout the generations. They believe in the possibility of transformation and are not willing to settle for tweaking the current, corrupt system of government that rules our country. Just listen to Pope Francis to hear the voice of an idealist calling for a complete dismantling of global capitalism. These people want and recognize that we need systemic change.
We need people who are willing to stand together, build a transformative movement for social change that unites people behind a vision of a world based on a New Bottom Line of love, justice, sustainability and reverence for each other, all beings and the planet. (Although we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives don’t endorse candidates or political parties, we are working to build such a movement; you can learn more about our efforts at www.spiritualprogressives.org.) All great movements for social change were initiated by idealists — the abolitionists, the first- and second-wave feminists, gay rights movement, civil rights movement, anti-apartheid movement, Gandhi’s nonviolent movement.
What Avignone, Krugman and others are saying is, ignore history and forget that all great social change movements began with unrealistic goals. Thankfully, there are millions of people who have a burning desire to live in a world based on values of love, kindness, generosity, justice and sustainability. People who believe that our security and well-being are intricately tied to the well-being of all and the planet itself and who also believe that caring about each other and the planet is the ethical imperative and calling of our times.
So we have a choice, we can stick with the known, what is comfortable, what seems to be realistic at this time or we can jump into the raging waters, not knowing if we will succeed. By jumping in, we will be taking a strong, bold stance for our highest values, goals and dreams. Rather than being annoyed by and having “had enough” of the idealists, I give thanks for their presence every day because I know I am not alone.
Cat J. Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Cat welcomes those who are interested in joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives efforts to email her at email@example.com. Their website is www.spiritualprogressives.org