There is an argument floating around in Democratic side of the primary along the lines of “this is not the time when big change can happen.” I have come across it enough to believe that it is a taking point generated by the Clinton campaign. It is a two step argument that runs something like this:
Step 1: I like Sanders’ ideas–I like universal health care, I like the idea of college education for all, I like bold action on prison reform, I like climate change being addressed as a foreign policy issue.
Step 2: Now is not the time for big change.
This particular dynamic in the election narrative reminds me of a big sister holding out a piece of candy to her little brother: “Want a piece?” Just as he reaches for it, she pulls it away. “Sorry! Maybe later.”
It’s a sucker move. A way of dismissing your opponent while seeming to embrace his ideas.
But this argument also floats a big lie–a whopper of a self-deception that Democrats should probably address right now.
This is how I understand it:
For decades, maybe longer, Democrats have been asking why Republicans–particularly low income Republicans–vote against their own economic interests. Why do Republican voters in the Midwest or rural South vote for candidates promising economic policies that will hurt them, instead of help them? It is always a surprise.
Well, the 2016 Democratic primary is a case study in why Democratic voters support candidates who vote against their interests.
Voter after voter in this election is saying that they like and want the policies that Bernie Sanders is advocating. I have come across hardly any Clinton supporters who come out and say that they do not like what Sanders is advocating. Most say that they are passionately in favor of Sanders’ platform.
But then they do something absolutely remarkable: They say that it cannot be done because people in government tell them it is not possible.
I cannot remember a more straightforward example of people voting against their own interests–arguing against the very things they want.
Why are they doing it?
They are doing it because they accept a very simple idea presented to them by the very people responsible for passing legislation: that change happens slowly, that it cannot happen in the face of adversity.
But this is not true.
Quite often in our history, big change happens precisely at the times when it seems most impossible–when opposition seems absurdly intractable.
We live in a country with widespread homophobia, widespread discrimination against LGBT Americans, ongoing violence–and it is at this time in our history that we passed sweeping marriage equality laws and opened up the military.
At a time when the United States was in both its laws and its attitudes far more racist against African-Americans than it is, today–it was precisely in that time that huge strides were made in civil rights legislation.
Women were given the right to vote in an era when most women did not work outside the home, when a vast majority of men in America thought women were not intellectually capable of voting, and there were hardly any laws promoting or protecting women’s equality. That is when big change happened.
And on, and on.
My point is not to suggest that passing universal healthcare for all Americans or making sweeping reform in our racist criminal justice system or changing laws so that young people seeking a college education are not buried in debt for life before they start–I am not saying that any of these is morally equal to earlier, symbolic civil rights milestones. I am simply pointing out that big change happens not after society shifts to make room for gradual movement in our policies. It happens in the face of opposition–it happens precisely because people stand up and demand it against all odds. And then more people stand up. And more, and more, and more.
When Democratic voters tell me that “now is not the time” for change–I can only point to those Republican voters who support what they do not want and say: you have become like that. You are saying that you want something, but stopping yourself from demanding it because someone in power is telling you to give up.
I do not not know what it will take to pass universal healthcare. I am not clairvoyant. None of us are. But so long as there is a majority in the Democratic Party who accept the logic “we can’t do it now”–then it will never happen. We must be willing to demand what we want in the face of what seems like impossible conditions. That is precisely when big change happens. The same is true for every big area where change is desperately needed, today.
So, we should stop accepting the argument from people in office. We should stop agreeing with people who tell us that “right now” they cannot do what we want them to do–we should stop accepting that we need to wait. We should reject that argument.
Instead, we should choose what you want for a change and–most importantly–start to believe it can happen right now.
If we do that, then we will be supporting the very policies that we want and acting in our own interests as of this very moment.