TEDx Talk: “To Be Revolutionary, or not To Be Revolutionary”


On April 2, 2017, I presented a TEDx Talk at TEDxHammondSchool on the subject of political revolution, entitled “To Be Revolutionary, or not To Be Revolutionary.”



Below is the prepared draft of my presentation:


Slide 1 | image by John A. Carlos II


Hi, my name is Arik Bjorn. That’s Arik with an “A” and a “K.” And “Bjorn,” which means “bear” in several Scandinavian tongues. Very revolutionary-sounding, right?


Slide 2


I was the 2016 Democratic Party and Green Party congressional candidate in South Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District. More on that in a bit.


First, though: BJORN is not a particularly common name in these here Southern parts. Good Lord, what is that “J” doing next to that “B”?  Total consonant inappropriateness!


Let’s say “BJORN” together: Bjorn. Bjorn. Bjorn.


My apologies. BJORN is now “imprinted” upon your mind. If I had an actual product to sell you—like hair gel or a robotic vacuum—you’d be hooked. Instead, I’m here to convince you to devote your life to building and maintaining Civilization—which is a much tougher sell.


Slide 3


The title of my presentation is: TO BE REVOLUTIONARY, OR NOT TO BE REVOLUTIONARY.


Two weeks ago, I received a Facebook instant message asking me if I was interested in giving a TEDx Talk.


“TEDx Talk?” I said, “As in ‘THE TED?! Technology, Entertainment, Design?!’ ABSOLUTELY! What’s the theme?”


The reply: “To be Revolutionary.”


I passed out. When I awoke, I managed to type: “DREAM COME TRUE!”


They said, “Great! Here are the rules. No partisan politics. Don’t talk down other political figures. And you can’t state opinions of actual political controversies. Oh, and it’s in 2 weeks.”


I said, “Wait. You realize I’m an actual politician. As in, I ran for United States Congress—during the most partisan election in U.S. history? And I’m gearing up to run for office again in 2018?”


“Yep,” they said.




Slide 4


So, you say you want a REVOLUTION. Well, you know. Right, Gary?


What’s that, Gary? Those aren’t the Beatles you were expecting? Sorry, folks. Licensing. I wonder which one is Ringo.


Slide 5 | image by John A. Carlos II




Alas, poor Voter! I know them, elected officials of infinite jest
of most excellent fancy—those who oppose
Bills of Civilization that cross their legislative desks.


This is Wilson, by the way—my constant spherical companion during Campaign 2016. He’s retired from acting. Oh, and by sheer coincidence, my 2016 congressional opponent was Joe WILSON. No relation. But Wilson here certainly made for a fantastic conversation icebreaker on the campaign trail.


Oh, and as I alluded to earlier, behind me is Gary. Gary #RESISTS, if you couldn’t tell.


Anyway, back to REVOLUTION.


Slide 6 | image by John A. Carlos II


Spotting Revolution is easy, right? I mean, I’m a Dude with a beard, funny hair, I carry around an anthropomorphic volleyball that likes mimosas—clearly I’m a Revolutionary on the right side of history.


Slide 7


Same with Gary—minus the volleyball.


Slide 8


Here’s a great quote that demonstrates the quintessence of our theme: “TO BE REVOLUTIONARY”:


“The people’s community must not be a mere phrase,
but a revolutionary achievement following from the radical
carrying out of the basic life needs  of the working class.
A ruthless battle against corruption!
A war against exploitation, freedom for the workers!”


What an amazing quote! It’s so pure and, well, REVOLUTIONARY! Who said it? I present none other than…


Slide 9


Joseph Goebbels…Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.


Slide 10


STOP!! I know Revolution when I see it! And that’s NOT Revolution!


Slides 11-16


Revolution is George Washington tossing off the British, and Marianne tossing off the French Throne, and the Haitians tossing off the French. And Anonymous and Apple! And LOVE!


Slide 17


Or is it? It kind of begs the question, doesn’t it? What is REVOLUTION?


Here’s my humble suggestion of a definition: REVOLUTION IS A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE WITH SUDDEN & LASTING IMPACT.


Slide 18


The Phoenician Alphabet and Jimi Hendrix: GOOD Revolution. The burning of the Reichstag and Fast Food: BAD Revolution.


Now of course my definition of REVOLUTION isn’t perfect, and we could spend our entire day discussing this alone. But hopefully we’ve established that:




Slide 19




Slide 20


All right. Back to the drawing board. So, you say you want a Revolution? Well, you know. Right, Gary?


Maybe we should trust our esteemed event coordinators. They consider me somehow worthy to deliver a presentation on “BEING the Revolution.” So let’s investigate my 2016 Campaign for Congress—in as nonpartisan a manner as possible—to find out why.


Slide 21


Four years ago, on November 6, 2012, I walked into my South Carolina 2nd Congressional District voting booth and beheld the following: Congressman Joe Wilson—yes, the Joe Wilson who, point of nonpartisan fact, shouted “You Lie!” at President Obama during the President’s first State of the Union address—VERSUS NO DEMOCRAT.


In a District of nearly 700,000 individuals, not one single individual had stepped forward to represent the Democratic Party. Thus, Congressman Wilson, no value judgments to his longstanding career, waltzed off to Washington DC unopposed. {nod to Harold Geddings}


As someone who identifies with the left side of the political spectrum: Boy, did that stick in my craw wrong. Fast forward 2 years to 2014. This time, a FAKE Democrat showed up on the ballot to run against Congressman Wilson.


Slide 22 | The State Newspaper (June 18, 2016)


How do we know this candidate was a Fake Democrat? When this individual ran against me in the 2016 Primary, the South Carolina Democratic Party formally endorsed me over him—which is only the second time in history this has happened.


I still can’t figure out whether it’s better to have no one on the ballot, or a Fake candidate.


So far, all of this smacks of Revolution, right? Let’s go back in time again.


Slide 23


Every MLK Day since my daughter was 3 years old, she and I have climbed the South Carolina State House steps to sit down and eat a picnic of crackers and cheese, apple slices, and grandma’s world-class chocolate chip cookies. We discuss the meaning of history and symbols, how “We the People” govern ourselves.


Whether we discuss the Confederate Flag, healthcare, or Presidential campaigns, many of our conversations conclude by me saying, “So you see, there’s a better way.” My daughter has a bright mind. She heard that phrase enough times that eventually she asked, “Then why don’t you try to show people a better way?”


That ultimately became my congressional campaign slogan: “There’s a Better Way!”


Slide 24 | images by John A. Carlos II


Thus did a young girl plant a Seed of Action in her father’s soul, such that, on March 24, 2016, mere hours before the deadline to file for office—it being clear that, yet again, no real Democrat would stand forward to represent the Democratic Party platform for the 700,000 individuals of my congressional District—I wrote a check, signed a piece of paper, and declared myself a 2016 Democratic Party candidate for Congress.


A few months later, after I won the Primary by tens of votes—45 to be exact (EVERY VOTE MATTERS!)—the South Carolina Green Party asked me to serve as their candidate, as well. I said, “Wait, can we actually do that? You mean my name will appear on the November 8, 2016, ballot not once, BUT TWICE!”


They said, “Yep, South Carolina remains one of only 9 states in the Union where candidates can represent more than one Party on a single ballot—we call this Fusion Candidacy.”


Slide 25


Guess what?  I wasn’t the only federal fusion candidate in South Carolina in 2016. Three other individuals stepped up to the plate at the last moment because they, too, couldn’t stomach the idea of no one representing their political worldview on their ballots: Thomas Dixon ran as the U.S. Senate candidate, and Dimitri Cherny and Mal Hyman ran for South Carolina’s First and Seventh Districts, respectively. They weren’t just Democratic Party and Green Party candidates—they also took on the candidacy of the Working Families Party. (Yes, their names appeared on the ballot THREE TIMES!)


What could be more revolutionary than 4 non-career politicians—a pastor, an entrepreneur, a professor and a public librarian—showing up at the last second to run for congressional seats in all but impossible situations? Oh, and we called ourselves the South Carolina Blue Brothers?


Slide 26


Still, I think I get the claim of most Revolutionary because of the beard and the volleyball—and I’ve got a guy named Gary who #RESISTS. Although, to his credit, Dimitri Cherny did trek about his entire coastal District in an amphibious bike-boat, going to remote islands and places no congressional candidate has ever gone before. Still, I’ve got a beard.


Slide 27


As to my beard. Early in the campaign, people actually became quite angry about my hair and beard. Truly livid—sometimes threatening not to vote for me. My response was, “I completely understand. I’m going to create a committee to study the matter. The members of the committee will be Abraham Lincoln, Socrates, Moses, Frederick Douglass, Jesus and Gandalf.” Very few argued with me after that.


Slide 28 | image by John A. Carlos II


As to the heart of our campaign, we did things you’re just not supposed to do in South Carolina politics:


We decried rape culture at rock concerts. I know I’m not supposed to advocate specific policies, {POINT AT SLIDE} so this may or may not be what I think about the lack of federal funding for tens of thousands of rape kits in our country.


Slide 29 | images by John A. Carlos II and presenter


We talked boldly about Workers Rights & Unions. Which in South Carolina is only to be matched in “things you shouldn’t talk about on the campaign trail” to LGBTQ rights. In fact, I was the first politician ever to visit SC Black Pride. We held possibly the state’s first Transgender meet & greet—and the first person I asked to be on my advisory board is our state’s most outspoken transgender activist.


Slide 30


We made women’s rights a core of our campaign. We refused to hide the fact that South Carolina remains the 5th most dangerous state in the Union for women to live.


Slide 31


We embraced Interfaith communities and visited Islamic Centers, Sikh Temples, Hindu mandirs, and other ethnic religious communities.


Slide 32 | images by Viva Noticias and presenter


We were perhaps the first South Carolina campaign to translate all of our literature into Spanish, and we blazed a trail for candidates to engage Hispanic-Latino communities all across our 5-county District.


Slide 33


Oh, and there were more parades than you can shake a camel at!


Slide 34


We even took a Founding Fathers & Founding Mothers Road Trip to Monticello and Montpelier and Washington DC—during which my daughter wrote all of our social media entries.


Slide 35 | image by Manuel Mesa


One of our greatest accomplishments occurred at the Pelion Peanut Party Parade. Prior to this event, there were DNC members who told me to my face that I was wasting my time running for office. “Why, South Carolina District 2 is just about the most impossible congressional District to win in the country.  You’ll never even get Joe Wilson to debate you one time.”


Slide 36


They were right. I didn’t debate Joe Wilson one time.


Slide 37 | images by Manuel Mesa


I debated him twice. And did I mention I did all of this while working full-time as a public librarian—oh, and I’m a single parent.


What could be more REVOLUTIONARY?


Slide 38


So, you say you want a Revolution.


In a District with a mere 23% Democratic base (as I’ve been told), this complete rookie to politics managed to pull in 36% of the vote in a year when Republican stormed the gates like bulls running down the backstreets of Pamplona. And we did it with 1/10 of the funding as the neighboring congressional campaign that received most of our state’s fundraising love, plus three visits from Vice President Biden.


Both campaigns received the same numbers. So I guess this political rookie did something right.


Yet the thing is: with all apologies to today’s theme, our campaign never felt the least bit “Revolutionary.”


I have no doubt that George Washington and Toussaint L’Ouverture, and even Steve Jobs, were convinced of their Revolutionary personages.


But I don’t consider myself a Revolutionary. Nor am I leading a Revolution.


Instead, from day one, our campaign felt like we were simply doing things the way they should always be done.


Slide 39


“Maintaining, assisting and enhancing life”—as Albert Schweitzer once wrote. Not “harming or hindering life,” but embracing and accepting life and culture in its myriad diversity.


“There’s a Better Way!” And we are headed on that path.


Slide 40


One might even dare to use a word like “Civilization” to describe this way of thinking.


Slide 41


If anything, the entirety of my 2016 Campaign for United States Congress was an effort to breathe political life into a beautiful, Civilization-framing statement from Martin Luther King Jr’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:


I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture of their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.


We don’t need Revolution to attain Dr. King’s “audacious belief.” But we do need to work together in unison to build and maintain Civilization. We don’t need pitchforks and torches, so much as patience, critical thinking and dogged persistence.


Slide 42 | image by John A. Carlos II


If the question is: To Be Revolutionary, or not To Be Revolutionary?


Then I think the answer is: Build Civilization.


In the sense that Civilization is the practice of individually and collectively maintaining life and doing good, of advancing Humanity ethically. Of building institutions that preserve humane society.


We all have a part to play in establishing the foundation of Civilization. Every act of kindness, every thoughtful gesture, every advancement of human knowledge, is significant. And it will in fact take tens of billions of such actions for us to finish laying that foundation.


Is this Revolution?


Not in the George Washington sense. Then again, once the star-spangled dust had settled from the American Revolution, there were quite a few Native Americans, slaves, women, average folk, etc., not much better off than they were before.


I hate to disappoint. Some of you may have been expecting cannonball bursts at presentation end.


Instead, let me encourage us all to strive to be agents of goodness, humaneness and peacemaking, in all that we do—even in our politics.


I know that my good friend, Gary Who Resists, would agree. Thank you.


image: John A. Carlos II | statement: Arik Bjorn


Be a Body. Be a Voice. Act now. While there’s still time.




#HammondTEDx #TEDX @HammondTEDx


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