Shira Palti | Book Review for 3/13

By Shira Palti

Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution Does not present a radical agenda. Sanders presents problems that he identifies in the American society, both in the public and private sectors, and provides solutions. In the eight chapters of the book, each dedicated to a different political issue, Sanders outlines his ideas on how current policies should be reformed in the United States. When discussing each of the eight issues, he explains what the problems are in the current policies, and how they should be changed in order to improve our society.

Almost all of the problems relate to inequality and the distribution of power. The solutions proposed by Sanders do not offer alternative social structures, but instead, they attempt to redistribute power by improving the current existing structures.

The improvements that the book presents are not new and innovative. They are common ideas that exist in many political left winged agendas. Instead, Sanders presents his readers with useful information. The information can be used as a guide by liberal politicians, who would like to solve the problems presented in the book, and are looking for practical solutions. They can translate the proposals in the book into bills, and vote for legislation that implements Sanders policies.

The information provided in the book can be used by activists who would like to advocate for the proposed policy changes. The book is structured in a way that provides its readers with practical tools that can be used to implement these policy changes.

In the following paragraphs, I will clarify why I do not think that this book presents a radical agenda, and how the book attempts to provide both politicians and activists with practical tools to promote the proposed agendas. In the end of this paper, I will compare Sanders “Guide to Political Revolution” with Indivisible’s “A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”, and explain why I think that although they propose different courses of action, they can also be used to complement each other.

 

Initially, the policy changes proposed in the book all sound very positive. The ideas are good ideas. They make sense and are convincing, especially to the liberal audiences that the book has been written for.  However, none of the information in this book is new. The problems that Sanders discusses, and his solutions, reflect ideas that are, for the most part, held by many liberal, or leftist politicians, activists, and thinkers. Nothing in the book surprised me, or challenged me to think. It was all very clear and straight forward, some of the information in the book was even trivial.

So why was this book written? What is Sanders’ message to the readers? As I was thinking about this question, my attention started shifting from the book’s content to its form.  The book is written in very plain and easy language. It’s not very long, each page contains few paragraphs, written in relatively large font, with large titles, which makes it very easy to read.

The book includes many graphics that highlight important parts of the text. It is very accessible to people who are not familiar with leftist policies, and provides a clear guide to Bernie Sanders agenda and proposals. At the end of each of the eight chapters, the book provides information on how to mobilize, and promote the policies presented in the chapter, and provides links to more information to readers who would like to learn more about the subject of the chapter.

This format sheds light on the books purpose: It’s not meant to educate its readers and provide them with new ideas. Instead, it teaches them how to bring about political change. The book provides its readers, both politicians and activists, with practical tools that they can use.

For politicians, the book can be used as a basis for the creation of a policy platform. Politicians can take the ideas and data provided in the book and translate them into legislation. In the book, Sanders is in fact giving law makers solutions to long standing social problems. They do not need to create new ideas themselves, all they have to do is implement the ideas that are presented in the book. Instead of spending their time thinking of new and innovative policy solutions, they can use the existing solutions, and spend more time on implementation.

The book provides clear and concise data, which activists can use to convince the public of these agendas. The graphics in the book can be put on posters, data can be circulated to the media.  The information can be used to create slogans, target specific policy makers, or join an existing group of activists.

 

The ideas and policies provided by Sanders in his book are not radical, they are a practical call to action. It seems that Sanders thinks that social policies should be changed, but he stops before going all the way, and offering to completely take apart current social structures.

This can be seen in chapter three, in which he discusses the reform of Wall Street. Sanders criticizes Wall Street executives for routinely practicing illegal behavior and being able to get away with this behavior, many times, without being held accountable (pp. 58-62). However, Sanders does not present a radical solution to these problems. His solution is based mostly on increased regulation, and restrictions on the size of banks.

Another example of this can be found in chapter seven which focuses on policing and criminal justice reform (pp. 153- 176). Sanders calls for a reevaluation of the enforcement of criminal justice, and of problems in the criminal justice system such as the use of private prisons, the racist problems of the “war on drugs” and the mental health crisis which leads many Americans in to prisons, instead of providing them with adequate treatment and care. Sanders does not question the legitimacy of the criminal system, or of prisons in general, and does not offer an alternative solution to dealing with unwanted activities.

Even in his call to abolish the death penalty, Sanders states “We are all shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders that we see in this country. When people commit horrendous crimes, we should lock them up and throw away the key” (p. 167). Sanders isn’t offering his readers a radical new solution for immoral and socially unacceptable acts. Rather, he accepts the socially accepted ways of punishment, and offers a way to improve them, and make them easier to swallow.

In chapter one (pp. 1-29) Sanders discusses the minimum wage, and describes why raising the minimum wage will drastically reduce the number of people who use social services such as welfare, food stamps, public housing, etc.  Instead of having the government, i.e. the taxpayers, subsidize these programs, employers who raise wages will allow their employees to have the economic capability to provide themselves with these basic needs. Here, again, Sanders does not go against the well-established system of employment and social security, but proposes ways to improve the current system, and solve problems that arise.

As explained in the last three paragraphs, Sanders does not propose a radical solution to end the problems that he identifies, but uses this book as a way to mobilize readers into action. This call to action can encourage non-activists to become activists, and bring activists together. It provides activists with policies which are meant as solutions to today’s current social problems, and offers them tools to work with, as they promote this solution. The readers/activists can take his message and spread it to new readers and new communities. The clear and accessible information makes this possible.

In addition, another reason that this book is so accessible is the fact that it is not radical. These ideas are very easy to understand, accept, and support. It is hard to read the book and not support its agenda. It does not force its readers to comprehend new ideas, and does not make them rethink the social structures that they are familiar with. The book does not make its readers uncomfortable. On the contrary, it makes the readers feel like these changes are not radical or extreme, and therefore, are not imaginary. These changes can be achieved.

Solutions that seem unattainable and utopian may deter the public, because they may think that there is no point in fighting for an impossible solution. Activists often try to work strategically, and aim for “realistic” solutions, rather than solutions which they do not think that they will be able to garner support for, and implement. In this book, Sanders targets this frame of thought.

Similarly, to Sander’s Guide to Political Revolution, in “A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” by Indivisible, the writers aim to mobilize their readers. These works are more than just a written text. They were both written as motivational tools. They give their readers both the practical tools and instructions, and the moral support, that they need in order to become active. The texts complete each other in a way. Sander’s Guide to Political Revolution points out policy problems and solutions, while giving the readers/activists the information which they can later use to convince others of these policy solutions. The “Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” provides specific instructions that tell activists how to organize others, and voice their opinions about current policies.

The text is also written very simply and accessibly and gives clear instructions on how to act. Its instructions are very specific, going as far as to offer the readers/activists tips on where to sit in town hall meetings, and how to find the emails of the staffers of members of congress, explaining the different email structures of staff of senators versus the staff of members of the house.

I assume that the writers of the “Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” would generally agree with most of Sander’s policy proposals. Indivisible’s guide can be read as the practical guideline with which activists can promote the implementation of Sander’s policies. They can follow the instructions in Indivisible’s practical guide, while using the information and data provided by Sander’s “Guide to Political Revolution”.

However, Indivisible’s guide purposefully does not adopt Sanders policy ideas. They feel that this is not the time for promoting their policies, and reforms, because politically, they will not be successful, as long as the majority in Congress, is not supportive of liberal policies, such as the ones proposed by Sanders.  Therefore, they call their readers to put on hold their new ideas and agendas, at least for the time being. They present a more radical view than Sanders, because they think that before new ideas can be perused, the current administration needs to be defeated. They call for reactionary activism:

“You may not like the idea of being purely defensive; we certainly don’t. As progressives, our natural inclination is to talk about the things we’re for — a clean climate, economic justice, health care for all, racial equality, gender and sexual equality, and peace and human rights. These are the things that move us. But the hard truth of the next four years is that we’re not going to set the agenda; Trump and congressional Republicans will, and we’ll have to respond. The best way to stand up for the progressive values and policies we cherish is to stand together, indivisible — to treat an attack on one as an attack on all.” (p. 7)

The writers behind “Indivisible” are not calling their readers to mobilize and support a certain policy, rather, they are calling on them to oppose current policies, disturb the work of the members of congress, and their staff, in their implementation of harmful policies, and most importantly: threaten the members of congress’ seat. Make them feel that they may not be reelected, and use that power to prevent them from support the policies that the activists oppose.

These writers have located the members of Congress’ weakness, and are using it against them, in order to prevent policies that the activists do not approve of. By following the instructions given to them by the writers of “Indivisible”, activist engage in a power struggle. Members of Congress have the power to influence policy, and provide support and power to their party, and to the president. In order to successfully implement his agenda, and preserve his power, the president need the support of members of congress who can vote for his policies. Without their support, his power will be minimized, and limited to few very specific duties. If members of congress fear that supporting the president’s policies, will lead them to losing their seat in congress- the source of their political power, because their constituents are not satisfied with their performance, and the policies that they promote, they will change their policies. They won’t vote against their constituents, especially when the constituents have been so active in their opposition to those policies.

This kind of strategic activism connects the president’s powers, to the power of congress members, and the power of the public. A President, and a Congress that cannot promote and implement their agendas due to the objections of activists are almost powerless. A powerless government, which does not function will eventually be replaced, and the power will return to the public, which will choose to grant power to a new leadership.

This is the point when Sanders book, Guide to Political Revolution, becomes useful. It can serve as a basis for potential candidates to build agendas, and for activists to advocate for those candidates. Campaigns can be built using the figures, and explanations provided in Sanders book. However, this cannot be done at the current political climate. It will only be possible once the current government is stripped of its power, by the public that gave it the power it holds today.

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