The second American Revolution: A work in progress

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Revolution Evolution Art by Mr.Fish.

Revolutions are traditionally marked by the year they began ― 1776, 1789, 1917, 1949 ― which elides the truth that it takes decades, sometimes centuries, for a radical break from the past to complete its tumultuous slow-fast processing through the sociopolitical fabric, with each challenge to the previous status quo just as likely to be rebuked as celebrated, undermined as enacted, co-opted as integrated. In this light, it may be more accurate to describe periodic progessive outbursts since the 1960s, from the Nuclear Freeze movement to Occupy to Black Lives Matter, as well as the reactionary responses to each, as major aftershocks of that (in)famous decade’s explosive Big One. 

This makes perfect the timing of the publication of “By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution,” a fresh, deeply-reported examination of the radical activists and movements of a half-century ago. In conversation with Robert Scheer for this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” decorated journalists Margaret and David Talbot review the lessons uncovered by a re-examination of leading activists and movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. 

After a global pandemic dramatically increased already untenable inequity overlapped with the radical reassertion ― in the streets and online ― that America is built on fundamentally false pretenses when it comes to equality, the Talbots provide a memorable blueprint for how individuals can continue the work even when the TV crews move on, by becoming leaders who emphasize organizing, action and coalition-building. 

Scheer, himself a veteran of those struggles and now teaching Generation Z, notes, however, that some of the key factors that pushed 1960s youth toward radicalism, such as a universal draft during an unpopular war, no longer exist and the pressure to “sell out” has become even greater in a much tougher economic reality.  “What did you learn from this project about keeping idealism strong and front and center?” he asks the authors. “How do you keep consciousness alive?”



Joshua Scheer