Over & over again in politics, we come up against the mistakes, betrayals, compromises of iconic figures & organizations–& not just in the past. In a world where elitism & authority are honored, the young are discouraged from challenging, scrutinizing, questioning. And history constructs saints & flawless champions. It’s a way of teaching deference. It’s also a way of hiding reality behind hagiography.
Screw deference. There’s a world to change & on the path to social transformation, nothing is off limits; nothing & no one is sacred. The young should be encouraged to interrogate everything & everyone–not to replace elitism with disrespect & cynicism, but to understand the way forward. For the young there can be no hero/ines but only teachers.
The examples from history & social struggle are too many to cite. It came up dramatically in the 2012 South African film “Dear Mandela,” where young housing activists questioned policies of the ANC government & Nelson Mandela. (Mazwi Nzimande, one of the young leaders, is leading protests now against xenophobic violence.) It came up in 2011 when Dolores Huerta from the United Farm Workers accepted the Medal of Freedom award from Obama one month after his regime permanently barred children farm workers from safety protections. It comes up with Angela Davis who cannot break loyalty with the Democratic Party; it comes up with numerous civil rights & feminist leaders who compromised rights to curry favor with the Democratic Party. It comes up when Mao Tse Tung is questioned. (Some misguided even cling to the sanctity of Joseph Stalin.) It’s the endless process of learning who to trust, what to respect.
Interrogating icons requires not insolence but information. You often see colossal ignorance displayed in criticisms of feminism from the 1970s. That movement was forged against a massive campaign of ridicule in media & now is being vilified as racist prudes by those who want to destroy & divide feminism along generational & ethnic lines rather than honest critique. Along with freedom to question, the young have to do their homework.
Choosing political leadership is not the same as selecting gurus or spiritual counselors. It’s a rugged process wrought in struggle & quite frankly those who never get off their asses but write criticisms from their easy chairs should learn to zip it. (Armchair rebels illustrate the only place in politics where humility is a virtue.) That process was played out in spades in the Egyptian uprising & now in the emerging civil rights movement. Leadership is the question of questions in social transformation. Who & whose program do we trust?
The politics of social transformation is not a place where tenure serves. Anyone who’s ever sat in an assembly of octogenarian leftists knows the full brunt of that truth. Those who marinate fifty years in sectarianism & factionalism do not improve with age but only grow more belligerent. And they are proof that nothing & no one is sacred in the process of understanding what is to be done. If the young don’t question, mistakes are not corrected. There isn’t a single case where obedience & deference served justice.