New Democracy is based on the idea that ordinary people's everyday lives have revolutionary meaning. Are we nuts?
Look at the Brockton nurses as an example. Nursing is known as one of the "caring professions" with good reason. When young women and men choose the profession, it is at least in part because they want to care for other human beings. There are a lot of professional skills that go into nursing; but beneath their technical competence there must be a caring quality in nurses, a quality of love and kindness, to tie their skills together and bring them to life.
These qualities of love and support for other human beings inevitably bring nurses into conflict with hospital authorities. The nurses are motivated by concern for their patients and for their own families, but the first concern of hospital management is the bottom line. This conflict over goals—human caring vs. the bottom line—simmers beneath the surface of hospital life and touches every decision over staffing, overtime, length of patients' stays, and other vital questions affecting the quality of care. The nurses' strike didn't create this conflict. It brought it into the open.
What does all this have to do with revolution and the meaning of people's lives?
Nurses are not so very different from the rest of us. The qualities that the nurses bring home to their families and friends are the same qualities of caring and love that they bring to their patients. These are the same qualities that the rest of us bring to our own families and friends. The success of all of our relationships depends on love and loyalty and commitment to each other. These qualities may be "special," because we value them above all else; but they are qualities that we all share to one extent or another and that we all admire.
Are these qualities revolutionary? Yes, they are, in two important ways.
One, these values—our commitment to other people, our determination to do what's right—will always bring us into conflict with the authorities, just as the nurses' values bring them inevitably into conflict with hospital management. Whether we are auto workers or teachers or students or retirees, the authorities are trying to squeeze us and our families and friends. They are trying to attack our self-confidence, break our connections with other people, undermine our belief that we and the people we care about have the right or the power to change anything. To the extent that we remain true to our commitments, sooner or later we have to fight.
Two, these values of support and solidarity are revolutionary because their extension to the rest of society would be a revolution, the transformation of society.
When we in New Democracy talk about revolution, we aren't talking about pie in the sky or something that's never existed. We're talking about reshaping the world with the very best values that we practice now, today, in our families, with our friends and co-workers, with our students and patients.
We believe that the smallest acts of kindness and the most public, collective acts of revolution are on a continuum of struggle to make the world the way we believe it should be. The nurses' strike is a perfect example of this; it is a more public and collective expression of values the nurses practice everyday at their patients' bedsides. It is an act of love and an act of class war.
What would the world look like if society were based on these best values of ordinary people? Imagine.
Originally published in New Democracy Newsletter, July-August 2001.