Changing the World

By Jim Selman | Bio

In a recent New York Times op-ed column, Bob Herbert challenged all of us to get down out of the bleachers and take on at least one of today’s intractable problems. He pointed to the courage of many Civil Rights activists in the ’60s and ’70s, including Andrew Goodman who was murdered by the KKK and of course Rosa Parks. We remember these individuals and many like them because, like revolutionaries everywhere, they put their lives on the line for something worth dying for. They stood ‘in front of the tanks’ in Tiananmen Square; they faced British soldiers in India; they campaigned for unions when children were dying in sweatshops in America; they managed ‘underground railroads’ during the US Civil War, World War II and the ‘dirty wars’ of South America in the 1970s and 1980s; they are fighting today for the environment against oligarchs and big corporations; and they are the last line of defense against wholesale corruption and greed in many parts of the world.  Collectively, we call them ‘activists’ because they operate within the rule of law, but without relinquishing their commitment to change.

“Activism” is the penultimate resort to bringing about change when people lack the power to make policy—a form of non-violent war to change a system from within the system. One activist strategy might be some form of insurgency where the only goal is to destroy the status quo without any real vision for change and very little possibility for success. Another is to physically stand between the oppressors and the oppressed. The real power of activism, however, lies not in

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