Finding the Balance Between Reform and Revolution

above: photo by Ferran Moya

We know the U.S. Democracy is a grand idea on paper, but like most of the ideas America was founded on, democracy in action doesn’t exactly work out like that. Because America doesn’t live up to the standards it has set, many of us dream of a revolution. I know I do. But just as quickly as those revolutionary thoughts enter, they exit with the realization that it’s 2016. The next election is in nine months and we don’t have time to plan a revolution. So what do we do? What is the “happy medium” between improving the system we have (reform) and scrapping the system to make room for what the people need right now (revolution)?

Democracy, like the American Dream, has proved to be another one of those thin veils our country uses to influence our belief that it is a just place to live and thrive in. We are sold these beliefs through history lessons and corporate media that boast ideologies that any person that dreams of freedom would want to be a part of. The numbers however, do not reflect these founding ideologies. If we could overlay the reality of country with the definition of “Freedom”, we see that large portions of the country are disadvantaged due to institutionalized racism, classism, and sexism. Not to mention the many other -ism’s that befall those who are not straight, white, able-bodied, and male. These systems are all held in place by those in monetary control of our country.

White men comprise 80% of Congress, yet make up only 31% of the country. We need revolution because the wealthy white men in power do not reflect the everyday needs of the people of color this country relies on. I think we can all agree on that. Where we all fail to agree, is how to fix a broken system. Revolution would be perfect, were it not run by perfectly flawed humans battling external and internal wars.

Part of the draw to a revolution is the very romanticized imagery. When I think of the revolution I want, I see masses of Black people walking in and occupying Congress, local and metro area City Halls and no longer calling for accountability but instead telling these administrations what’s about to happen: we are instating a government for the majority - for the people - to reverse the disadvantage that has been held in place by the historic tradition of oppression in this country. We want a new constitution or the bullet.

The reality of that though: the bullet is a likely answer, and although we may feel revolutionary, not everybody is ready for that answer. Reform, then, becomes a likely option. So instead we vote, right? We fulfill our civic duties and participate in the political process? Wrong. Even in 2016, while they aren’t characterized as voting restrictions, there are definitive and intentional boundaries between constituents and the voting booths in the “Land of the Free”, and more often than not those constituents are poor people of color. 

In Ferguson, following the tragedy that was and still is the killing of Mike Brown, residents organized voter registration efforts and as a result ‘changed the face of city council’. This was reform, but these people were revolutionary in their capacity. Often times, we do what we can to make political change, but without an upheaval of the system in total, those revolutionary changes can only go so far. 

Following Ferguson, we’ve seen a rise in proactive and vocalized consciousness, activists suggesting policy reform, national discussions on criminal justice, and overall celebrations of Blackness. These actions are revolutionary in thought, but take the route of reform to ensure sustainable change. Without revolution we cannot remove a traditionally oppressive government overnight, not when it took hundreds of years for this same government to establish and sustain its oligarchic systems with the goals of keeping a prototypical ‘elite class’ in place. “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect” and it also won’t change for those it was designed to oppress.  

So what is the balance between reform and revolution? I don’t know that there is a balance, I feel as if we need reform first to make room for revolution. While revolution is what we need, it can’t be done under the circumstances of a lack of unity or true consciousness. Then what is the tangible solution and what can the individual person in America do to change the system today, right now? There is no answer. The solution is as complex, if not more than the problem, and maybe this is a cop out – but my suggestions is to recognize that the system is broken, find your lane of change, exercise your vote locally and nationally, and ensure that what you’re doing is working towards making revolution possible. 

Alyx is a Staff Writer for the Afrikan Black Coalition. 

Afrikan Black Coalition