changemakers as celebrities

A few months ago, I wrote a post about individualism and our culture’s need to have a hero. After this post, I talked to YD about Justin Dart [considered to be father of the Disability Rights Movement] and found out that as much as we put him on a pedestal and beg, pray, and wish for another leader like him, he wasn’t about that. She shared this quote with me and told me different stories where he was constantly emphasizing community in a personal and political way:

“The notion that any one person is the single cause of any significant social change-that Abraham Lincoln alone freed the slaves-is a devastating stereotype which robs individuals of responsibility and credit, and actually inhibits social change.”
—Justin Dart

I then saw this video on Slant Truth’s page and this commentary about Dr. King titled Why is the Only Good Civil Rights Leader a Dead One?. The video is about 10 things Dr. King said that you haven’t heard. I am reminded how our society and our educational system twist these people into a new myth that is often not what they were originally about.

Even radical concepts— like disability pride in a world that says disability is ugly— are watered down into completely messages to promote other agendas, like mainstream inclusion and other things that can be important but use pride just as one tool instead of a lifestyle change. A friend, who is an Obama fan, and I had a conversation last night about Barack Obama as a celebrity. I haven’t totally pinned down my feelings on this but as I watched the Yes I Can video over and over last night at 2 am and was inspired (which is what it’s supposed to do), it made me uncomfortable that Si Se Puede was used without any historic mention of it (is that any different from appropriation?). And it’s more than just appropriating a term or phrase, it’s the idea that voting in a new president is revolution though his policies are identical as Clinton’s and as a politician he is not in a position to really create really militant change. Though I support Obama and will vote for him in our May primary, it really worries me about the after effects of having a politician masquerading as a community organizer and using the mantra of real change as a means to get him in office. What will happen if he loses or doesn’t deliver the change people have been promised?

I like what Grace Lee Boggs wrote here:

To build the movement for change will not be easy. The challenges we face demand profound changes not only in our
institutions but in ourselves. To become part of the solution,we must recognize that we are a large part of the problem. That means we can’t leave it all to Obama. Instead of being followers of a charismatic leader,we must be the leaders we’ve been looking for. This is the best way to make Obama less vulnerable to corporate funders and lobbyists. It is also the best way to protect him from the assassins who gunned down so many charismatic leaders in the 1960s.



Filed under organizing, politics

5 responses to “changemakers as celebrities

  1. The true test of a Leader for Change is someone people try to discredit, defame and harass. The more true you are to the subject of real change; the more the enemies of change come out to stand against you.

    People have cast aside Dr. King’s messages about poverty and justice is this nation because it threatens the Capitalist Status Quo.

    I have to ask, what will any millionaire politician work hard to change especially when it comes to economic justice? Who will say, amongst Clinton or Obama that the top 1% should pay more taxes? Who will outlaw drug companies from making excessive profits? Who will really reign in coporate America from its crusade to enslave the poor to jobs with menial salaries?

  2. If he loses now, he can still run again. I totally agree that we can’t just leave it up to him though and have to be active ourselves. The celebrity factor is the stimulus to get people to act in the first place. I just hope that people stay motivated. It heartens me though that young voters are going for Obama. Today’s young seem so motivated. We are the future. If we remain motivated real change should be possible. But it’s a fight that must continue indefinitely. There’s no magic, no snapping of the fingers solution. The real enemy is not the capitalistic mentality but the “instant” mentality. Check out it this great talk on MLK that looks at the real man and not the celebrity:

  3. Also Obama’s video is “Yes WE Can” not Yes I Can”. For me the difference between Hillary and Obama is that he seems to understand that he needs us. He seems to understand “community”. Hillary is more “me, me, me”, more individualistic. Their political stances aren’t so different after all. They differ in their relationship to us and with us.

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  5. you’re definitely right and thanks for the link on dr king, i’m going to go check it out now. the yes we can typo is huge, the whole difference between obama and clinton like you said.

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