Always astounded by the lack of historical fluency of college students, I once again found myself defining terms like ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ and giving history lessons on the Constitutional context–revolution, tyranny and power. Most students did not even know from whom America gained its independence judging by the quiz on the first day of class. It’s always a big job to explain the story of America.
But now it’s research paper time and the readings turn political, especially advantageous in an election year: essays on gun control, torture, colonialism, free speech, economics (subprime mortgage debacle) and poverty, to name a few. My hope is that students will attach history to current events, find relevance in the story behind the polarization of just about every issue: guns-no guns, pro-life/pro-choice, as well as examine the apologists for just about everything from torture during the second Iraq war to complaints of reverse discrimination in school admissions policies.
But after my history and vocabulary lessons, I asked my students about voting. Very few said they would vote this election on the grounds of apathy and disengagement from the process. None felt it made a difference. Where were all the enraged college students riled by the rogue candidates on both sides of the political spectrum? I was hoping to find a few Bernie Sanders enthusiasts in particular to question. From newscasters and social media accounts of his popularity, I was certain I would find a few supporters among college students. I did find one.
She liked his free college and single payer universal health care solutions and felt he was for the people and not big corporations nor Wall Street. Unfortunately, she did not stand up to gentle questioning about how she thought congress would vote regarding free college and universal health care. But she had reached the end of her thoughts on the subject and so I was on my own to speak on behalf of revolution, which is how Bernie Sanders’ words and ideas have been characterized.
In the end, I worked myself into a lather detailing some of the best known revolutions in American history from independence to unionization to the Vietnam War’s end. They all took people getting hurt, risking life and liberty. They took numbers on foot, in the streets. Short of that, revolutions do not happen, just gradual shifts by attrition, erosion, desensitization and devolution or evolution. The pendulum keeps swinging. But Bernie’s revolution, as inviting as it sounds, is one for the streets, not the ballot.
I am skeptical about what will happen should he get to the White House and meet with an intransigent congress as has been the trend in recent years. Will he disappoint those youth who came out to get him elected and thereby give them reason to stay home next election? I suppose that is the risk of any campaign’s success–failure to make good on promises.
We read Garrett Keizer’s “Loaded” about guns for today. Keizer is a gun-toting progressive by his own admission. After outlining the traditional camps and characterization of the two sides as either NRA gun violent nuts or tree hugging pacifists, he decries the lack of revolutionary fervor in defending rights, ideas and the Constitution. His last paragraph segued nicely into my drifting English, history and political lecture:
The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Still, if asked to choose between an urban guerrilla armed with an Ak-47 and a protester armed with a song sheet and a map showing how to get to the designated ‘free speech zone,’ I would decline on the grounds of insufficient faith and negligible inspiration. Rather, give me some people with very fanatical ideas about the sanctity of habeas corpus and the length of time an African American or any other American ought to have to wait on line to vote. Give me some people who are not so evolved that they have forgotten what it is to stand firm under fire or even to squat near the fire in a cave. Give me an accountant who can still throw a rock.