Images: "Not Your Battleground" by Foks Lo
Revolution is a topic as taboo as it is integral to a changing society— or so Aristotle believed. Revolution is defined as “a sudden, radical, or complete change”, though when used in conversation it usually connotes a political or social change specifically. The idea of revolution brings up a few iconic images— the French Revolution, a historical revolt against the monarchy; the American Revolution, resulting in American independence from British Colonial rule; the Chinese Revolution, a revolution against world imperialism, among many other successful revolts. Perhaps you think of the American Civil Rights movement, or Stonewall; typically shown in black and white, implying a different time altogether, though both events took place after the 1950s. Repetition in history is inevitable, but viewing revolutions throughout history is a fascinating tool for understanding our own modern society. As grandiose as the word “revolution” might seem, it has returned as a buzzing topic in our recent American political climate— the risks posed against women’s rights and the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the removal of trans rights and protections, the grey area of citizens rights to privacy in an age of digital eavesdropping; for an advanced society, the rights of certain people within it are at risk, even this far into the future.
National Geographic defines revolution as a tool to implement change, promoting equality and resisting oppression. Occurring typically when there is a perceived oppression, where institutions in place have failed or stagnated. The emotional well-being of a society becomes at risk, breeding discouragement and hopelessness. Opposing Aristotle’s perspective, Plato believed revolutions indicated a social decay, reflecting a certain political or institutional failure. Is this the inevitable next step in a society with an ever-growing wealth gap, with a plethora of empty homes countrywide yet an epidemic of homelessness— a society that defeats its working class, that has made healthcare an industry, that removes the protections of women despite a worldwide lash back and removes the protections of its queer members— a society that allows diabetics to die in need of a medication that has existed for 90 years yet doesn’t have a generic, affordable option; the list of inequities continues. At what point does a society that destroys its population for the top percent to prosper warrant a revolution?
When delving more into this concept I came upon the loudest and most repeated issue; modern revolution must look completely different if it is to be effective. Rioting is quickly shut down by a militarized police force, protesting is met with dismissal and effects little change. The tools of revolutions past have been rendered ineffective; those in power have seen it before. So, how do We the People affect change in the 21st century?
In a rapidly evolving society, revolution would have to evolve as well. If a revolution was to be modern, I thought, it would be unlike anything we’d seen yet; something specific to this period. Modern warfare has changed, bringing technological advancements to the discussion; revolution would have to adjust in the same vein. A society with instant worldwide communications and endless information at the fingertips would have no lack of tools for modern revolt. Social media and its rapid evolution first comes to mind, enabling anyone with a voice to be amplified, providing spaces for beliefs to gain followings. Grassroots activists have taken to the internet to voice analytical takes and gain organic traction, reaching further than any activists of the past could hope. The juxtaposition of simultaneous virality with secrecy appears to be key; gaining traction underground is increasingly easy with accessibility to any niche and subsequently, its supporters. Accessing a specific group directly has never been easier; the demographic based algorithms do the work for us. Connecting leaders to supporters, speakers to writers, artists to researchers— one could form a logistical team without ever exchanging a spoken word. The list of social media platforms connecting the viewer to the content creator is ever-increasing; or in this case, the vessels through which one could voice rebellion to supporters.
Historically speaking, Revolution is risky business. It poses a certain martyrdom, a complete devotion to a cause despite risk to self. The French Revolution, a famously celebrated success; yet only after a violent political lash back did the people of France garner any advancement politically. The civil rights movement, a more recent revolution, featured the resistance against violence rather than the wielding of it; the modern idea of riots and fire were not possible here. The movement’s forms of protesting were a calculated and blatant defiance contextualized by the time they were living in. Stonewall, a brutal resistance that resulted in the gay rights movement and armed future generations of queer folk with the power and defiance of their predecessors. Taking it even further back, biblically speaking; the enslaved Israelites were only freed after seven plagues were inflicted upon Egypt. From each of these we can infer that change is possible and the power is indeed with the people, but a great deal of resistance would be met before change could be seen. Starkly different approaches to revolution, displaying that outright rioting isn’t always necessary, but sometimes is the only option left.
Revolution can take many forms— economically, via rioting, via protesting, petitioning, boycotting, workplace strikes… but in this modern era of late-stage capitalism, the power has been slowly siphoned from the people upholding its existence. By promoting a culture of individualism and competition, protecting the wealthy and glorifying the famous, the people are subjected to the whims of a society monopolized by unseen hands. Built to serve the top percentile and slowly crushing the middle class under its weight— are we headed towards post-capitalism if a revolution doesn’t take place? Under this pressure of a volatile future, we assess; if a modern revolution is to be successful, it cannot be simple— a plan would be integral.
Most movements have a head or form of organization, someone to assemble the strategy and deliver it to the masses. A platform would be necessary, bringing social media into play. Connections with the press or supporters in positions of aid would be vital, as well as the ability to organize physically. Boycotting is the biggest tool of resistance in a capitalist society, and thus boycotting and using money as a means of protest is key. Capitalism relies on money flow, as we can see the effects of post-COVID. Workers Unions have proven to be good tools to protect the working class and would be ideal to implement in many workplaces, and workers strikes are useful when unions are suppressed. Taking to the press, creating our own press, and returning power to the people is essential. If the Constitution does not support our rapidly evolving society, allowing for the government to exploit its wording for racist or sexist purposes, it must be revisited before we can grow beyond its flaws. Women in Poland are setting an example, as they recently organized one of their country’s largest protests ever, protesting abortion restrictions. They skipped work, wore all black, and protested on a day they called Black Monday. Their efforts impacted Polish lawmakers, and the law in question did not pass.
Modernity allows for a revolution with resources and loss prevention, the ability to spread an idea like wildfire in every citizen’s pocket. The media of modern times has an enormous impact on our ability to conceptualize revolution— both for the good and the bad. Surrounded by propaganda both blatantly and subliminally our entire lives, the next generation entering the adult space is both able to weed out manipulation and utilize propaganda to their benefit, while having a fully stocked repertoire of revolutionary context. Books, films, music— an endless library of media centering revolutions and revolt is more easily accessible than ever. Both romanticized and realistic, true and imagined— the artist's duty is to capture and convey, document and represent. As artists, we are responsible for the heart of society. Every revolution needs a series of skill sets, from leaders to speakers to coordinators and strategists; artists are just as integral. Spreading a message and conveying it clearly, garnering attention and discussion, documenting a point of view otherwise unseen— these are skills of artists, necessary for any movement, political or otherwise. Artists ensure the truth is heard, that suppressed voices are recorded— we are the bridge between the media and the masses. With this responsibility we carry the weight of the future, and the integrity of the past.
Ultimately, the most patriotic thing an American can do is support the growth and positive change of this country instead of abandoning it to tyranny; demanding a return to core values (the right to the pursuit of happiness, equality, stability, and personal success) and a reassessment of the ones that no longer serve the people. No advancing society could hope to stick to a stagnant text for its entire lifespan, unless seeking to make that lifespan shortened. If future generations are meant to benefit from the system in place today, it must be changed to actually serve those a part of it today. As the Ancient Greek proverb claims, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” We must band together as a community, resisting toxic individualism, unifying the American people where we are now so starkly divided. A healthy society requires the same upkeep as anything else, adapting and evolving with its people to avoid stagnation or worse; fascism.
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