Videos of his explanations have been circulating on sites like Reddit: “What democratic socialism is about,” he explains, “is having a government which reflects the interests of ordinary people rather than what is currently the case, the billionaire class.” Sanders frames socialism as a solution to greed, corruption, and injustice—a better way of organizing society. Sanders himself may be partially responsible for socialism’s facelift: His unique appeal as a candidate—his authenticity, his sense of moral urgency—makes the philosophy he preaches more attractive.

Sanders is also quick to point out that countries like Denmark have a substantial voter turnout and “vigorous democracies.” Indeed, in 2011, it was a staggering 87.7%. In last November’s midterm elections, by contrast, 63% of Americans (including, notably, 80% of young Americans) didn’t vote. “Republicans win,” Sanders emphasized, “when there is a low voter turnout.”

The implication the senator from Vermont is drawing is that results could look quite different in the US—and could lean quite further left—if a more significant slice of American voters turned out at the polls. This is a direct answer to CNN pundit and debate host Anderson Cooper’s skepticism about whether Americans would really vote a socialist into the White House. The problem isn’t socialism, it’s that voters have lapsed too far into political apathy to make it happen.

The cure? According to Sanders, it’s a political revolution, something to jolt Americans out of indifference and re-energize the electorate. Interestingly the term “revolution” itself smacks of radical measures and destabilizing change; it’s tainted by Jacobin and Bolshevik associations. Certainly, no other candidate would be bold enough to talk in those terms, but the revolution Sanders is calling for isn’t about riots in the streets; it’s about democratic engagement and participation: “The only way we can get things done is by having millions of people coming together,” he noted during the debate. “If we want free tuition at public colleges and universities, millions of young people are going to have to demand it … If we want to raise the minimum wage to $15 bucks an hour, workers are going to have to come together and look the Republicans in the eye and say, ‘We know what’s going on. You vote against us, you are out of your job.’”

This call to action is what sets Sanders apart most noticeably from the other candidates. They talk about how they will lead and create change; he calls on Americans to be the change themselves through the sheer force of participation. It’s a call that carries an unmistakably ethical edge. Participation in this sense is the ethical obligation of democratic citizens; apathy, a kind of moral degeneracy.

It is hard to believe a call as reasonable and as deeply rooted in the tenets of American democracy as participation can amount to a revolution. And yet, it’s not exactly a stretch to say that voter turnout of the kind Denmark enjoys would completely reset America’s political landscape. It might even, one day, allow the White House to welcome to a socialist.

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