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6 People You Need to Start a Revolution

Successful change movements run on diversity. Here are the essential skill sets no revolution can win without.

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In the current moment, the progressive movement's intellectuals are its think-tankers, bloggers, speakers, professors and authors — the people who've been honing critiques of corporatist economy, politics and culture over the past few decades. Over time, they've quietly been dreaming up a new vision for how a truly free, secure, sustainable, and just American society ought to work.

In every successful revolution, the intellectuals are the people who hang onto the map of where we're going, and keep us from drifting off course when the chaos of change threatens to blow us into dangerous deeps. They know, better than anybody, how this new order goes together and what we'll need to do to build it.


It's a tragic truth that the kinds of imaginative people who can envision new societies — the intellectuals — are typically not the same people who know how to communicate those visions to the great mass of people. In fact, the intellectuals are often crummy at it. To get people off their butts and out into the streets, you need professional storytellers — writers, artists, songwriters, poets, filmmakers, actors, ritualists — who are gifted at grabbing people by the guts and not letting them go.

Artists are the ones who transform the intellectuals' ideas and visions into heart-level imperatives brimming with deep historical and personal meaning. They're the ones who can inspire vast numbers of people to make the necessary sacrifices, to feel intense bonds of solidarity, and to understand that the work of revolution is the most important work of their lives. You can't do that with a treatise. It takes a manifesto, a movie, a theatrical ritual, a marching song.

Emma Goldman said: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." Our artists are the ones who make sure that we keep dancing, even when things are at their darkest. Without artists keeping them engaged in the grand story of their own quest, people lose focus and wander off. But with that encouragement, they'll dance bravely straight into the abyss, even if they know death is waiting for them there.


The activists, intellectuals and artists are all loath to admit it, but the bare fact is that no revolution succeeds without a cadre of shrewd political operators who intuitively understand how power works, and are ready to rush in and deftly pull exactly the right levers the minute they're left unguarded by the powers that be.

This fact is going down really hard across the progressive movement right now. Here we are, trying to purify the nation from its corruption by the money power. It's natural that we'd be the most suspicious of the people in our own midst who best understand how that power works. We worry that this familiarity somehow taints their intentions and bends their sympathies. It bothers us that they know how to speak to evil on friendly terms in its own native language, and are willing to negotiate compromises with it. We doubt that they're really as committed to the idea of revolution as the rest of us are, and feel constantly uneasy about where their true loyalties lie.


These are all very valid concerns, and they should be attended to. Of all the groups, this one is far and away the hardest one to trust. After all, they sit across lunch tables inside the beltway exchanging funny stories about their kids and dogs with people from Heritage, AEI and Cato! They go to parties hosted by billionaire banksters! They've got lobbyists on speed-dial!

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