Last Wednesday, after standing in the rain among thousands of people for several hours, I had the pleasure of hearing a speech by democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Over 3,000 people packed into the Indiana University Auditorium, and thousands were left at the door. Though we had all been in line for hours, you could feel the buzz and excitement in the air.
When Sanders walked out on stage, the auditorium burst into shouts and applause, and some even broke down in tears. In a speech titled “A Future to Believe In,” Bernie proposed many “radical ideas,” including free public college tuition, governmentally provided health-care and an economy that works for all.
His speech was marked by standing ovations and shouts of approval, which occurred nearly every minute throughout the two hours. The common rhetoric surrounding Sanders is that he dreams too big and his ideologies are unrealistic. Sanders embraced this criticism in his speech and countered that no revolutionary figure was ever cautious of dreaming too big. And that’s the key to understanding Bernie Sanders: he sees himself and his campaign as a revolution.
To many, the word revolution might be reserved for large violent historical events, such as the French or American Revolution. We may attribute these as revolutions because they succeeded and, as the saying goes, the winners write history. We see revolutions strictly as successes or failures and assume that there is no in-between. But if a revolution truly is by definition “an instance of revolving,” couldn’t small changes be considered revolutionary?
Small changes are exactly what Bernie Sanders has accomplished. He has set fundraising records; he raised millions of dollars in mere days, all while maintaining an average of $27 per donation. His campaign has received over four million individual contributions–unheard of in American presidential history. Politically, Sanders is the first major candidate to promote blatantly progressive values since Jimmy Carter, and he is the only self-declared democratic socialist to ever be elected to the U.S. Senate.
These changes have already had an effect on American politics and society at large. Sanders’ campaign has torn away what was left of McCarthyism and provided a safe community for progressives. Many still misunderstand the meaning of democratic socialism, but there are far more that are proud to brand the label, or at least support a candidate that does.
Opponents of Sanders might argue that the primaries are basically wrapped up and that Clinton has already secured the nomination. These same people might suggest that Sanders’ campaign was far too unrealistic to make any kind of real change. What they do not realize is that whether or not Sanders secures the primaries, and perhaps even the general election, is not of major consequence. A Sanders presidency would undeniably change America, but he has already ushered forward large changes in our society and political process. Not only have his ideas arguably renormalized progressivism, but he has managed to secure 45 percent of the democratic vote thus far with his “unrealistic ideas.”
On Wednesday, Sanders promised to take his campaign to the convention regardless of the outcome. Sanders’ campaign never aimed to win, but to create a revolution, and he has arguably succeeded in doing so.