In a recent interview with Noam Chomsky, I came across a very simple fact on the understanding of politics that I think we too often ignore.
Too often are we mesmerized by the leaders of yesterday. Unintentionally, our fascination with those sweeping speeches and memorable martyrdoms lead us to passively observe our present for an individual to take the torch. The masses, caught up in a fervor, become pragmatically abject. In other words, we no longer see the point on holding them accountable. We forget that it was in the face of power that we gained (however small) our victories for the rights of women, minorities, and the wage slaves.
But even when we bring up a man like Martin Luther King Jr, I would make the case here that he is not the most important member of his movement. His work would become extremely important, his leadership invaluable, and his speeches timeless, but I believe that he would be the first to tell you that he was only riding the wave of activism. A wave that all started in Alabama with a woman unwilling to give up her seat on a city bus just for being black.
The ultimately important people of a struggle are unfortunately the ones whose names will be forgotten, and those who become the victims of the collective amnesia of history. They are the people who organize the forums for speeches, the ones who petition endlessly, the ones who flyer for events like the Million Man March, the whole slew of committees and councils bent on doing all the gritty and glamourless things. They march out into the streets to be hit and humiliated in the eyes of the onlookers. They are the ones who shall forever be cursed with the labels of “idealist” and “eccentric”, a people with purposes too ambitious for own lifetimes.
Ironically, they make history. They create the situations and circumstances for a Martin Luther or Noam Chomsky to enter into the wave and provide more critical leadership. This is true of every single movement that existed. Its not difficult to fly in and join the movement for a couple of hours by giving a talk. Those who work tirelessly to make the talk happen are the ones who are in the lead.
And today we take for granted the freedoms and privileges those forgotten rebels have won for us. Regardless, the fight remains ours. To reach the top one would have served the interests of those above them, not the people who need their help. As an atheist, I like the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” If the problem is ours, then any messiah is but false hope and a charlatan claiming to be a saviour. People like MLK understand this, which is why they hate being called heroes.
In the end, if we fight our fight and win, then we would have earned our victory and we would have deserved it. If we lose, then maybe we didn’t deserve a just world after all.