Bernie Sanders (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

17 summers ago, I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee while attempting a spin move in a pick-up basketball game. I planted awkwardly, my knee twisted a way it wasn't supposed to twist, and I immediately knew something was wrong. It was painful. But, as many who've also torn their ACLs will tell you, it wasn't an excruciating pain. I've also sprained each ankle several times, and each time that happens it feels like your foot is on fire. This wasn't that. But it was scarier because a knee injury is exponentially more serious. Possible surgery, longer rehab, and a good chance you may never fully recover. And the knowledge of this fucks you up more than the actual pain.

But, back to the pain. I walked home that day. I needed crutches, but I was able to move myself. A week or so later, after the swelling subsided, I was walking without a limp. And if you didn't know I was missing a ligament in my left knee, you'd have no idea I was missing a ligament in my left knee. Sure, it was far from 100% — if I tried playing I wouldn't have been able to jump, cut, or stop — but it was manageable. I couldn't continue playing basketball without it (although some, like DeJuan Blair, have managed to do that), but I could live without it.

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But I was a basketball player. And my knee needed to be 100%. And for it to be 100%, I needed surgery. And I needed to rehab the knee for 6-12 months after the surgery to make a full recovery. So I had surgery.

And the week following the surgery was the worst week of my entire life.

Because, immediately after you wake up from the surgery — while your knee is the size of a fat toddler's head and you still have a tube in it to drain blood and pus — you start working on your range of motion. Actually, you don't work on your range of motion yourself. A nice nurse comes into your room with a machine. And that machine stretches and bends your knee for you. Because you can't do it yet. And even if you could, you wouldn't because it hurts too fucking much. You're bleeding. The stitches keeping your incision closed tug at your skin. Every movement radiates. You move your knee and your ears somehow start throbbing. And then your face. And then your entire body. And then you ask for more morphine, because the bitch-ass droplets they're giving you just aint enough. And then that same nice nurse comes back in your room to tell you you've already been given enough. And that you need to just deal with it.

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And then, three hours later, they send you and the machine home. It's outpatient surgery, after all. And this process — the forced bending, the bleeding, the radiating and excruciating pain — continues. A process interrupted once a day by the baths your mom assists you with because your leg is too limited, too weak, and too painful to move. And this is where you lose it. Where the pain and the embarrassment and the self-pity all congeal in a big-ass batch of self-doubt stew. Your eyes water. Your face numbs. You seriously wonder if you'll ever be able to jump and cut and stop and slide as effortlessly as you were able to before that gotdamn spin move. That fucking spin move.

But then, after a week or so, you start feeling better. The swelling begins to dissipate. The pain isn't as excruciating. Your range of motion increases. It's strong enough for you to shit and shower with limited assistance. And then you're able to stand with crutches. And then you're able to walk with crutches. And then you're able to walk without them but with a limp. And then you're able to walk without a limp. And then there are several more "and then"s until, 12 months later, you're playing on concrete in an outdoor summer league with no brace, no pain, no fear, and no evidence of the process aside from a half inch-long vertical scar on your kneecap.

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America is changing. Incrementally, haltingly, and imperfectly. But it is changing. And this change is progress. Uprisings, protests, sit-ins, anger, outrage, fury — these are not signs of regression. These are the stitches stretching, bleeding, and breaking after forcibly bending your knee. Being challenged, having your feelings hurt, being forced to acknowledge certain things you either weren't aware existed or were aware existed but refused to acknowledge — this is what change looks and feels like. It's ugly. It's bloody. It's painful. It makes you question. It makes you doubt. It makes you cry. It is, in every sense of the term, fucked up. 

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It makes you wonder if it's all really worth it. Because, I can imagine things seemed fine before. They weren't perfect, but they were manageable. At least much more manageable than this fuck shit muck proceeding it.

But this is the difference between wanting actual change, actual progress, and wanting the appearance of change. Because everyone — at least everyone who considers themselves a liberal or a progressive or an ally — says they want progress. But some only want it on a cosmetic level. They want the appearance of giving an effort — an effort facsimile — and a pat on the back for this performance instead of the actual effort. Basketball coaches call this "fake hustle." Ex-girlfriends call it "your bullshit."

Unlike an ACL reconstruction, there is no rehab timetable for America. 20 years. 50 years. 500 years. We have no idea how long it will take us to progress to a point of full range of motion. Of full freedom. Shit, it might never happen. But right now, today, we are better than we were yesterday. We are moving. And if you want to move too, it's going to hurt. It will be fucking excruciating. But it will be better than doing nothing. Because you will be better too.