Russell Brand’s most recent book is called Revolution. In it, he argues for an end to capitalism and a transition to living in anarcho-egalitarian communities. It’s less of an activist manifesto and more of a celebrity memoir, but many of the points he raises are important. Even if Brand’s book doesn’t have a concrete solution for the ways in which things should be changed, it at least nails the idea that society is in need of some serious reform.
Brand is from the UK, but his book discusses issues pertaining to the United States. It’s an important group to address, because there’s no question that many Americans are unhappy with the state of their government. They also feel helpless, and the idea of achieving any true change through revolution seems like a distant impossibility. The nation’s two-party system has evolved to a point in which it’s easy to place the blame on those whose views differ from one’s own beliefs, but the reality is that neither side is happy with the way things are going. As this graph from the Pew Research Center shows, public trust in government has essentially been on the decline since the Eisenhower years. It’s currently hovering around all-time lows. That same poll depicts similarly low levels of satisfaction in regards to the state of the nation.
On a recent episode of podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, two other comedians (Trussell and Ari Shaffir) discussed the concept of revolution and how it could be applied in modern America. They posit that some sort of revolution is imminent, and they speculate as to whether that revolution will be peaceful or violent. The discussion ends on a positive note. Although our current conception of revolution involves violent revolt, the Internet has provided an unforeseen opportunity to create change through peaceful methods. Twitter and Facebook were already instrumental tools in the Arab Spring, even if those revolts had violent consequences. Trussell describes the current state of the web as influencing a “golden age of activism,” a period in which social campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter and #YesAllWomen can accelerate legislation and lead to true change. Occupy Wall Street didn’t change the country, but it at least made the nation more aware of income equality.
When peaceful activism works, it’s a testament to the strength of the United States’ core values. The country was designed for change to be achieved through the democratic process. Those values still exist, but they have been tested in recent years. Power has become concentrated in the hands of the elite, voting has become ineffective, and the democratic process has been tarnished. The Internet is a tool for enacting democratic change, but it’s also been a tool for exposing the secrets of a government with questionable morals and overarching rule.
When peaceful revolution doesn’t work, people turn to violence. The revolt in Egypt was led by a group of disgruntled citizens taking to the streets and demanding change. The violence didn’t lead; it followed. In the United States, our democratic government is set up in a way that’s intended to respond to peaceful calls for change. The views and desires of the people are supposed to be reflected in our government. That’s not the case right now, but at least the peaceful calls for change are being heard.
In discussing the possibility of another American revolution, angry citizens are quick to succumb to the same us-vs.-them arguments perpetuated by the two-party system. The government is the cause of everyone's problems, and the only way to solve anything is to fight back against it. The reality, of course, is that the government is comprised of citizens just like everyone else. It’s a system of people who are doing the best they can with their jobs and their lives just like everyone else. In recent years, however, we’ve become more aware that that system is tilted towards favoring the wealthy and elite. The views and desires of the people aren’t being reflected by those other people who make the government run. The Internet has been a useful tool in slowly chipping away at that corruption thus far. Hopefully the people will realize its potential to disrupt the power of government and lead to true change for the people before the time comes for things to turn violent.