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It was a sad moment to see Bernie Sanders delegates break down in tears at his last speech as a presidential candidate on the Democratic National Convention floor. As a participant in Egypt’s January 25 uprising, this emotionally-charged moment was very familiar to me. It represented, despite Bernie Sanders’s enthusiastic and optimistic words, the moment of defeat.
The defeat of change against status quo, defiance against submitting, integrity against fraud, excitement against apathy, individuals against corporations and hope against despair. Like Bernie Sanders supporters — or to be precise delegates, as I consider myself a supporter — I, personally, have lived this bitterness and dejection, and still live with it. Unlike them, however, my dreams were not shattered in the ballot box, but run over by military tanks.
Globally, it seems that younger generations were, overwhelmingly, on the losing side of the battles for more democratic, progressive and inclusive policies and societies. They lost it in the 2011 Arab uprisings, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, and the 2016 Brexit, before coming up short, a month later, in the democratic presidential primaries in the US.
Although these were simply local competitions, there is a pool of anecdotal evidence that a considerable number of young people across the world who, thanks to the internet, followed these political events were predominantly on the side of their fellow young contenders. The loser side.
It is not inconceivable, therefore, that the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt helped inspire the emergence of the Occupy Wall St. movement in the US. Or that the Political Revolution’s failure in the US democratic primaries would send new waves of sorrow and melancholy to many in Egypt.
For younger generations electoral politics has increasingly been associated with disappointment and retrogression.
It is, thus, perfectly understandable if Bernie Sanders’s supporters started to doubt formal politics and the way things work. Alienation, anger, helplessness, disengagement and the desire to punish society might be rampant, among some of them, at these moments. It is true that, for younger generations, in a time of polarisation and divisiveness, electoral politics has increasingly been associated with disappointment and retrogression.
After all, this ‘moment’ of defeat will not last forever. Even as it was, it has not come without considerable achievements or initiatives. Bernie Sanders lost the 2016 elections, but he has undeniably succeeded in transforming the Democratic Party — forever. The Party’s national committee has approved significant reforms put forth and advocated by Bernie’s campaign.
In the UK, after the Leave triumph, many have flocked to join the Labour party and trade unions to support its leader Jeremy Corbyn. The referendum result and the uncertainty it brought has triggered meetings and talks to discuss the possibility to form an anti-Brexit alliance in the next general elections.
In Egypt, under what probably could be the most repressive and brutal dictatorship in the republic’s history, the young generation still voice dissent online and eventually take to streets to defy the military junta. After almost five years of bloody crackdown on activists, NGOs, professional unions and political groups, we still see unfamiliar kinds of dissent blossom.
Fuelled by the scandal of leaked standardised high school exams — and the consequent cancellation of some — groups of secondary education students have protested against the education ministry all over the country. More importantly, growing segments of Egyptians, ordinary non-politicised citizens, have been publicly uncomfortable, to say the least, with the military’s role in politics and public life as a whole. This is, simply, unprecedented.
To conclude, in his comment on the world’s state of affairs the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, recently stated that he is “short-term pessimist and long-term optimist.” AND SO AM I.
Bernie Sanders’s tale could be an ideal embodiment of what young generations’ politics and activism, should be about — unabated, continuous struggle to make real the values of equality, justice and democracy, with moments of victory and defeat as stops on the road, not the final destination.
Today’s tears of failure and sorrow should not obscure tomorrow’s tears of love and contentment, like those that Bernie Sanders struggled to hold back while his brother, Larry Sanders, was voting for him.