Two people whom I deeply respect have spoken about “revolution” in the last couple of weeks. One was Martha Laureano, partner and wife of Richie Perez, at the memorial for this exemplary brother last weekend. Martha said, referring to Richie and his beliefs, “Revolution means change, from the top to the bottom, and that includes how we deal with each other as human beings.”
The other person was Leonard Peltier, in his 29th year of imprisonment for a crime he did not commit.
Writing from prison a couple of weeks ago on the occasion of his 60th birthday he wrote:
“Many times, people called us revolutionaries. I like that, although it often seems used in a negative sense, by the deceivers. Revolution refers to something traveling in a circle. All the Creator’s work seems to be in a circle-the Earth, the Moon, the Seasons, or a man’s life.
“As Native people of this land, we started in freedom and were receptive to others who came here for the same. This portion of our Mother Earth was clean and nature was in balance. I wish to see things revolve back to a situation like that again. . .
“Let us be revolutionaries in such a way that we enhance the circle of life. Let us be revolutionaries so that our children, generation after generation, shall enjoy freedom and a healthy, clean Mother Earth. Let our lives be based in the circle and not some straight line that has a dead end.”
I was moved by both of these statements. They are forthright, clear and truthful. They come from people who have suffered much because of their commitment to justice. And they claim a word to describe what we must be about that I have long felt was the most accurate to describe what I and many others are trying to do with our lives.
Ernesto “Che” Guevera, about whom an excellent movie, Motorcycle Diaries, has just been made and released, is famous for his statement, “Let me say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love.” This love for his fellow human beings and his deep anger at injustice was beautifully portrayed in this movie.
It is not easy to retain these “great feelings of love” when struggling to find a way to survive or when struggling to work effectively with others to build a revolutionary movement. History is full of examples, in this country and internationally, of how the difficulties of the process of social change have led to the bitter downfall, unnecessary division or corruption of many once-positive, progressive organizations.
This is why Martha’s words are so important. We can’t claim to be great leaders of the people while treating individuals we come into contact with in a disrespectful, condescending or dishonest way. We can’t claim to be for peace and justice while being dishonest within our progressive organizations, more concerned with advancing our particular agenda than working in a cooperative way with others to determine the best way to move forward.
How do we on an individual basis stay true to our ideals, to what we publicly say we are about? How do we, in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism?”
Having a community of support, whether immediate family, friends and co-workers, or both, is an essential.
Taking time for meditation and reflection, not being so “activist” that burnout or personal corruption assert themselves, is also necessary.
Spending quality time with children, young people, is a definite way to remain centered and focused on the need to help build for them a new future.
And we have to consciously cultivate a willingness to receive criticism, say “I’m sorry” if called for, and learn from our mistakes.
What if we built a people’s movement in this country that openly grounded itself upon these principles and had a leadership that functioned accordingly? There’s a revolutionary idea.