Helen Keller, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, William Lloyd Garrison. Names that will stand beloved for their examples of humanity and love. And they were all on the left. This is not to say that they were necessarily political, but that the principles they fought for at the time can be considered left principles.
I bring this up in light of the ongoing demonization of the left. I bring this up to give those critics of today’s left pause.
Before they became national heroes, those advocates of equality and solidarity were demonized as well. One need only look back and see which direction the staunchest criticism was coming from and how they were described by the powerful interests they threatened.
Ironically, the very same people that would have been denouncing such courage back then have now tried to whitewash their stories and claim these heroes as their own.
If these heroes become generic, then their struggles become generic. The victories of the past no longer represent a long tradition of left struggle, but a wound that time simply healed through gradual change handed down from the powers that be only as they saw fit. Indeed, many of such stories have now been told in a light that actually gives the right credit for gains they fought tooth and nail against.
All of which illustrates that when the right adopts these same heroes, it is not only ironic but quite useful.
Stealing such hard won gains while defining the left through demonization leaves little attraction for present movement building. If for no other reason, we on the left must make sure that we never lose our heroes.
This is not to say that we should advocate hero worship. Hero worship is merely another form of hierarchy. But rather we should remind the world that these people were human just like you and I. Inspired by the potential they saw in others, they themselves insisted upon their own potential.
But there is another reason. We owe it to these courageous souls not to let their stories be co-opted. To allow the world to forget what they were fighting for would be no less than betrayal.
If they weren’t afraid to stand up to the right, neither should we be afraid to stand up to the right and set the record straight.
We must remind the right that our heroes were not the same. You may try to share ours, but we will never share yours.
Yours were heroes of power, often heroes of violence. Our heroes were those who stole power only to share it with those least fortunate. This is what made them left, and this is what we must never forget.