Revolutions do not succeed merely because the current government has been toppled. The full cycle of revolution includes not just the tearing down phase but the rebuilding phase as well. Revolutions succeed only when the values they are seeking have been realized. And, even when those values have been realized, revolutions, in the long run, can only be deemed successful if those values are sufficiently protected and sustained by the new societal institutions they create.

We often hear the expression “be the change you want to see.” If citizens are not well-formed, if they see only their rights but not their obligations in a democracy, if they don’t understand the need for eternal vigilance to protect the greater citizenry from tyranny, democracy becomes impossible. The first essential change needed to bring about real democracy in the US is to awaken all citizens to the role they must play and the skills and motivations needed to do so effectively. We need our fellow citizens to see themselves as empowered. We need them to understand that envisioning new ways of thinking and new societal structures that lead to fundamental human empowerment sits at the core of the tasks that lie before us.

While we can cheerlead for these changes, each of us needs to make these changes within ourselves. We need to see ourselves as empowered with voices that have not only the right but the obligation to speak out for social justice. We need to work together to envision new institutions of democracy that fairly distribute power to everyone.

But, beyond the grassroots social structures we build and the changes we make to our own thinking, it is critical to recognize that real democracy has other components that need to be properly architected if we hope to succeed.

Critical among these is a system of education that contributes to life-long learning. Schools, for young and old alike, must instill in each citizen an understanding that democracy depends on their well-informed participation. Teaching “respect for authority” without teaching that “we, the people, are the authorities” leads only to totalitarianism. Without a well-informed electorate, democracy is a pretense.

Also critical is a mass media that serves the public’s interests and not the interests of those who “own” the media outlets. Even a good education cannot always overcome the persistent pounding of the paid propaganda peddlers. If the grassroots is not well-represented in the daily spewing of “news and information” programming, consent of the public, against their own best interests, is often too easy to obtain. As the saying goes “garbage in; garbage out”. An electorate without grassroots news sources cannot make well-informed choices. When the sources of news and information are controlled by the moneyed elite, democracy is no longer possible. We can no longer allow the perverse paradigm of equating money with “free” speech to continue. When “extra speech” can be bought by the wealthiest citizens for a price most cannot afford, democracy dies. There can be no free speech if there is not equal speech. Mass media must be publicly owned. When private owners control the message, they control the country. Which brings us, yet again, to the great debate of reform versus revolution.

Campaign finance reform, while an admirable goal, cannot be achieved while the wealth gap remains perversely disproportionate. How do we purport to pass laws to regulate the abuses of money while living under the tyrannical thumb of the moneyed elite? Even in the rare circumstances where progressive, though ineffective, legislation like McCain-Feingold is passed, we’ve seen that in time the “courts of the moneyed elite” are able to neuter the laws.

So, what then is the solution to the tyranny that excessive wealth enables? Does anyone believe that we can really use the corrupt electoral system to bring about the reforms we seek? Who gets elected? Worse, who gets to even run? How many millionaires are there in the Congress? Who controls the media and the electoral debate process? Who can afford the lobbyists? No, I don’t believe we can use “the system” to reform the system. What we need is revolutionary change; not reform.

And exactly what change is needed? What is your solution to build a society where the inevitable “wealth equals power” paradigm no longer perverts our democracy? That is your goal, isn’t it? How do we get there from here? Too many cling to the belief that the answers lie within our current institutions of government. We will vote in the good guys and have them do good stuff. The good guys we support will never be influenced by the abuses of money. They will not concern themselves with raising the massive mountains of moolah needed to get elected and to remain in office. They will never “accept the deal” from corporate America that tells them they can keep their seats to do all the good stuff if they will just compromise a little on certain pro-corporate issues. Such beliefs clearly have learned nothing from history. We’ve been making that same damned mistake over and over and over and over for hundreds of years. Wake up already, will ya?

Government is not evil. We can have a government that represents us. We have far too large a population to make “direct democracy” work on every single issue. On most issues, we need our form of government to be a “representative democracy”. But we cannot solve the problems we face with our current “representative democracy” because it is not representative. We cannot make the changes we need if we leave in place the corrupt system of excessive wealth that will always pervert any attempt at real democracy and real representative government. The ultimate change we need, and this is where too many liberals turn into libertarians, is to cap wealth. The wealth gap cannot be allowed to be as great as it is if we are sincere in seeking “equality of citizenship”. It just can’t. Money, i.e. wildy excessive wealth, will corrupt democracy every single time no matter what laws you might pass. The goal is not to punish the wealthy; the goal is to strip them of their excess wealth such that they no longer have sufficient resources to pervert the will of the citizenry.

At the core of the revolution, beyond all the social issues and government policies, lies one critical ingredient that must never be compromised. All citizens should have an equal voice in shaping what their government does. Until there is economic justice such that no citizen can have so much wealth that they are able to purchase a greater share of influence over the government, democracy will remain a distant dream. Cap wealth, empower citizens by teaching them their obligations to democracy, educate them and provide a grassroots-based news and information media and then, and only then, can the people’s revolution bring about the society we all deserve.