I wish I could show you the iPhone video my friend Diane took of her grandkids. They are triplets who toddle and, in this episode, they invent a game of bringing Diane rocks from alongside an Albuquerque sidewalk. The kind grandmother accepts each of their gifts and gives each something in return. Very quickly there arises competition, with innovations and permutations. The girl kept testing her strength, bringing larger and larger rocks, which Diane would replace with money-sized pebbles.
I remembered scenes from Mandela where the imprisoned Nelson Mandela was doing hard physical work that his jailers meant as punishment but that could more philosophically be understood as the plight of humankind. What might have broken another man actually gave Mandela greater resolve. He was a person whose course had been set in his youth and whose commitment to justice deepened in exile. He was the first to note that his story could have ended differently.
Bernie Sanders was a young radical who has spent his entire adulthood inventing ways to bring a better life to the disempowered. Today he has started a political revolution. While the pundits smirk, believing that mere words will not change much (since their own well-articulated opinions seem seldom to earn even a round of applause).
The millenials whom Sanders has ignited are not the uneducated, undisciplined, impoverished masses of Karl Marx’s nineteenth century. They may be broke because of it, but they have done their study of history. They may be a diverse mix of races and cultures, but they are in strategic communication. They may lack financial capital but they are starting entrepreneurial ventures together that prove the social potential of a free economic system. Just how free the rich allow them to be may become a question, but the sons and daughters of the oligarchs are among them.
We are living in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, when repressive governments were toppled. Without an alternative structure or a strong legislature in place, anarchy quickly gave way to theocracy, murder and social displacement. Today, refugees are seeking the safety of established democracies even as our democracies are being threatened from within by angry citizenries.
Whether the developed world regresses toward fascism, environmental depletion, interpersonal violence and intertribal hatred will depend on the vision, tenacity, and cooperative intelligence of the young people experiencing Bernie’s political awakening. Can they re-form government? Can they spend their adult lives with singleness of purpose like Mandela? Can they be satisfied with smaller victories over a long time like Bernie Sanders?
Although I pose these questions as though the answer lies in personal qualities and moral uprightness, my own social experience tells me that true change happens in very intimate relationships. People scoffed at Gloria Steinem for suggesting that young women went where young men went. But our life paths are made with comrades. Perhaps both young men and young women turned away from Hilary Clinton because of their mutual attraction to a stronger message of hope. We do tend to trust whomever the loved ones we trust are trusting.
When I was 20, I did not trust the cynics. When I was 20 and angry, I did not respond well to being mollified, corrected, placated or ignored. When I was 20, I was right and I knew it. All that has changed about me is that I now understand that there are a lot of other right answers.