Great Men

I recently read a piece condemning Hamilton’s “Great Man” version of politics. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — how much of history is shaped by individuals leading us forward (or dragging us back), versus how much is shaped by large popular movements. It’s both, of course.
 
I keep seeing people pointing to the Occupy Movement as an example of a big popular movement that ‘didn’t accomplish anything.’ But Occupy gave us Bernie Sanders, made it possible for him to run and be taken seriously, and then Bernie’s effective presidential run strongly influenced the official DNC platform. The Occupy people popularized phrases like “the one percent,” which brought income inequality to the forefront of public discourse. And of course, the collapse of the housing bubble and the consequent recession was the ball that started knocking down those dominoes, but you need every step along the way, every link in the chain, to get things like single-payer healthcare and a fifteen-dollar minimum wage into the party platform.
 
I keep reaching for metaphors and I’m not sure any of them are quite right. Right now, I’m picturing the popular movement warring against the racist, misogynist, homophobic rhetoric that won this election. I see them (us) as a wedge of soldiers. Soldiers on a battlefield, flying forward to confront their opposition. Any one soldier is almost irrelevant, but get a big enough mass of them together, and you can knock down the walls of the darkest citadel.
 
History won’t remember the soldiers; it’ll remember the name of whomever saw the way the people were running and managed to position themselves in front of them, the sharp point of the flying wedge. “Leadership involves finding a parade and getting in front of it,” John Naisbitt said. But that’s okay. I don’t know who’s going to emerge as the next progressive leader — I hope we have a host of them, all paying attention to the outrage of the people, all running forward to put themselves at the head of this furious parade.
 
I am damned sure they’re paying attention, right now, to what we’re saying. So whatever you want, whatever you hope for, want to fight for — say it.
 
Say it loud.

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