Here Is The Winning Strategy For The Progressive Revolution
It will not happen the way you think it will happen.
People keep asking me to write about what I consider the best strategy for a progressive takeover of American politics. What’s the map to victory? How do we win this thing? So like a good girl I’ve taken up the baton and been obediently writing all I can about media wars, the fight for control over the national narrative, and the way unprecedented internet access is facilitating a drastic transformation of human consciousness, because it’s clear to me that that’s the most direct answer to the question of a progressive strategy, not so much the concerns about primaries and delegates and getting funding for a viable third party. The questions about strategy keep coming though, which means I’ve done a poor job of fully articulating my take on this thing. So let me take another crack at it.
In 1991, a man named Libero Grassi was shot and killed in the streets of Palermo, Italy, capital city of the island of Sicily. Earlier that year he had written an open letter published in the local paper which began with the words “Dear extortionist,” in which he publicly announced his refusal to pay pizzo, the extortion money the Mafia collected from businesses throughout Sicily under threat of vandalism, arson, physical harm, or murder. His death was a warning. Nobody would dare to openly defy the Sicilian Mafia again until 2004, when five graduates began the Addiopizzo (“goodbye pizzo”) movement, which went on to successfully organize a collaboration of hundreds of Palermo businesses that openly refused to pay pizzo together with one voice, in one co-ordinated movement. They secretly collected a tipping point amount of businesses to stand up to the mafia one beautiful sunny morning when all those businesses each put up a small sign in their window declaring that they were no longer going to pay pizzo. Each person only had to partake in one tiny act of rebellion — put an Addiopizzo sticker in the window at an agreed time.
Since the Mafia couldn’t kill them all, they had to leave them all alone and the pizzo system was neutered. It had other beneficial effects too — customers were also sick of the mafia’s reign of terror and were excited by this movement toward health. They flocked to support the businesses that sported an anti-pizzo sign by buying their goods and using their services. Each business who joined the rebellion ended up being handsomely rewarded for their defiant act of courage.
What changed between 1991 and 2004? Internet access, of course. Business owners were able to network and coordinate in secret using the internet, so that rather than one man taking a brave stand in the Palermo daily paper, hundreds of businesses were able to simultaneously put up Addiopizzo signs on their windows when they opened shop one morning. Endorsed and supported by the family of Libero Grassi, the movement has since been picked up in other cities in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
Now, any Sicilians who had been lobbying their politicians in an attempt to solve the extortion problem using the government were surely overwhelmed by disappointment and despair at all the dead ends they encountered due to the widespread and pervasive dominance of the Mafia over that region. To anyone trying to escape their oppression by writing letters to their elected officials and trying to get anti-Mafia politicians elected, the immediate success of the Addiopizzo movement would have come completely out of left field. The old model of institutional problem solving would have been so immersed in its outdated approaches that such an unconventional approach couldn’t have been anticipated until a group of fresh-eyed college kids showed them the way. For those who were open-minded and clear-eyed enough to recognize an opportunity to move toward the light, it was a doorway to freedom.
Let’s talk about 4chan.
Seriously, let’s; I assure you this is extremely relevant. Make no mistake, 4chan was the driving force behind Trump’s younger voter base, without whom he could not have won the election. Every pro-Trump and anti-Hillary meme you saw making the rounds during the general election campaigns, all the viral symbols and ideas, everything from Pepe to Pizzagate, all had their birthplace on either 4chan or its Reddit political ally r/The_Donald. These naughty basement-dwelling internet trolls went from performing coordinated pranks on the social networking site Habbo Hotel in 2006 to determining the outcome of a presidential election in 2016.
The funny thing is, they don’t even really like Trump. At least not according to Morgan State University Professor Dale Beran, who has had his toe in the waters of 4chan since its humble beginnings in 2005 when it was created by a 15 year-old named Christopher Poole. In a long but beautifully inspired essay on Medium that you should definitely check out if you have some free time, Beran claims that the self-proclaimed “betas” of 4chan only supported Trump as an act of defiance toward a political system that has failed them. Elevating such a doofy, oafish clown to the most powerful political office on earth was the ultimate middle finger of middle fingers that these young men could give to a nation whose previous generations have left them with no prospects and no hope.
Think about that for a minute. Fueled by nothing but contempt, despair and an abiding sense of irony, the geeks and outcasts of 4chan were able to elect someone Commander-in-Chief of the United States that they don’t even really like. I attribute this to the fact that 4chan’s users are in a perpetual state of improvisation and collaboration, the same factor that has enabled its users to influence internet culture and generate unbelievable amounts of original content like nothing else in the history of civilization. Internet lingo, the way GIFs are used in internet culture, and the very existence of memes as we know them today were all birthed on 4chan due to the way its millions of anonymous users are constantly coming up with ideas and forgetting about them as soon as they lose energy, moving from theme to theme and expanding on one another’s ideas from moment to moment based on whatever’s hot in each instant.
If progressives can move into a state of continuous inspired improvisation like that, think how much we could do for a cause we actually care about! We caught glimpses of what that could look like during the Sanders campaign with all the high-energy Bernie groups on Facebook and the dank Bernie memes that caught on like wildfire, but its movement and energy was largely pinched off by people’s old-model fixation on votes and delegate counts and precincts, and when Bernie’s run ended the energy of the movement was deflated by disappointment. They were applying a 1991 mindset to a 2016 world, and those two worlds could not be more different.
That’s your winning strategy right there: we need to stop basing our thoughts, perceptions and actions on spectacularly obsolete models. Despite outward appearances, the human species has changed more in the last 20 years than it did in the previous 20,000. There are now 3.5 billion human brains all hooked in to the same real-time information network; we are in essence one gigantic, globe-spanning brain with billions of human brains comprising its neurons. This brain is still in its infancy, but its emergence has transformed us into a completely different animal in a way the invention of the cotton gin or the combustion engine never came anywhere close to doing.
If you would have taken a guy from 20,000 years ago and shown him life in the year 1997, he’d have had no way of understanding anything that was going on because of the leaps and bounds of scientific and cultural innovations we’d covered during that time. I would contend that a 1997 mindset is even less useful for dealing with our current situation than an 18,000 BC mindset would have been to 1997.
We are stepping into completely uncharted territory as a species. This isn’t a battle for the old-model spoils of old-model battles the rules of which were invented by dead slave owners in the 1700s. Those old battles will still play a role, but a secondary one after the primary battle of ideas and information that will determine their outcome. This is a media war, and the first groups to figure that out, dispense with old models and move into the new paradigm will be the ones to achieve dominance. Right now, the closest group to doing that are the bitter neckbeards of 4chan. This needs to change.
Here then is the simple four-part strategy that will enable progressive sanity to usurp the omnicidal corporatist nightmare that is the current political establishment of the United States:
1. Forget everything you think you know about political strategy.
This one is first because it’s fundamental. You can’t run in the water, you can’t skate on the ceiling, and you can’t surf the 2017 zeitgeist with a 1997 mindset. Trump won because there was more cognitive agility and responsiveness to the spirit of the times on his side, and that side will keep on winning until this changes. This isn’t a political war or a culture war, it’s a media war. The media war cannot be won using old models in a completely unprecedented and radically changed world.
2. Remain in a perpetual state of creative, collaborative improvisation.
Be attuned and responsive to whatever’s hot in each moment. Whatever ideas have the most energy behind them, whatever people will pick up and run with. Put your own ideas out there on social media, on blogs, on YouTube, via essays or rants or memes or whatever medium is sexy to you in that moment. When you see something exciting and inspiring being offered by someone else, be it an idea or a politician or a trend, share it around, point at it, get excited about it, and let other people see your excitement. Don’t try to replicate yesterday’s hot theme or resurrect last week’s hot topic; that’s dead, forget about it, stay with what’s hot right now. Your enthusiasm ads fuel to that fire.
We’ve got the power of 3.5 billion human brains and all the best ideas and information at our fingertips; the legacy media and its oligarchic puppeteers cannot compete with us if we remain collaboratively inspired and improvise agilely with each new day.
3. Think big.
Anyone remember this meme? It went viral after Sanders’ stunning upset win in the Michigan primaries because it so cuttingly and hilariously mocked the narrative of hopelessness and inevitability the pro-Clinton legacy media was constantly pushing on the people. Every time Hillary would win a contest in the southern states, you’d see Wolf Blitzer’s vacuous face spouting on about Bernie Sanders’ latest crushing defeat, and this meme was artfully designed to combat that deliberately-engineered narrative of hopelessness. The mistake we made was buying into that narrative at all and allowing them to determine the rules of the battle we were fighting. By tricking us into believing that the success or failure of our movement was based on Bernie’s success or failure and then drumming up his failure at every opportunity, they successfully painted us into a corner. They tricked us into thinking small and focusing on the stupid point-counting game whose rules they made up to benefit themselves.
We will lose this battle if we keep letting them dictate the terms of engagement and suck us into the old battles they’re already adept at winning. You didn’t see the Trumpsters finagling over the details of the election; they were just “YEAH TRUMP, YEAH! CROOKED HILLARY, WIKILEAKS, REEEEEE!!!” the entire time. We Berners were like a leaf blower, trying to get all the stuff in the right locations according to the instructions, while the Trumpsters were like a freakin’ tornado. They were a movement, a force, completely immune to the manipulations of the establishment and its media goons.
That’s what we need to be. Whenever I write about how Sam Ronan is an excellent model for what we all need to be doing, people always run in going “Yeah, but he can’t win” or “Yeah but he’s not a perfect progressive on every single issue.” That’s stupid. That’s old-mind thinking. It’s not about whether he can win or whether he’s exactly bang-on with every issue, it’s about the fact that at this moment in time he’s attuned to where the energy is at and he’s charging in the right direction with every ounce of momentum he can muster. He’s 27 years old with no political experience and he just appeared on CNN with a Labor Secretary, a Congressman and a Mayor telling everyone the truth about how lost the Democratic party is. He’s not getting bogged down in the details of whether or not he can win or whether he’s the best guy for the job, he’s just running in the direction of the zeitgeist with everything he’s got. He’s not leaf-blowing, he’s throwing himself into the momentum that will become a tornado if we all join in.
4. Expect the unexpected.
The inspired, collaborative, improvisational nature of this strategy will necessarily make this revolution unpredictable. We cannot predict what the specifics of this movement will look like, because by its very nature it will be constantly disrupting patterns and bringing in fresh ideas. This doesn't matter, because we all know what direction the truth is in, and we'll be able to see ourselves moving that way from day to day, even though it will be chock full of pleasant surprises. It will not happen how we think it will happen; it can't. But it will happen.
If we can get enough starry-eyed rebels implementing this four-part strategy, we will quickly take control of the momentum of the nation, win the media war, and revolutionize American politics. All we’ve got to do is capture people’s enthusiasm and sweep them out of the abusive relationship they’re stuck in with the establishment propaganda machine. We can do this, and we can do it together.