Chico Mendes, who said "At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity." He was a rubber tapper who became a world renowned activist for the sustainable use of the Amazon. He was murdered by the son of a rancher.
Joe Hill, an itinerant worker, a labor leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies), and song writer. Executed in Utah for a murder he did not commit. "Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried," he said. "I don't want to be found dead in Utah."
Helen Keller, although blind and deaf, became a suffragette, an advocate for people with disabilities, a pacifist, a radical socialist and a birth-control supporter. She joined the Wobblies and also helped found the ACLU.
Toussaint Louverture, born a slave, earned his freedom, became a plantation owner and then the leading general in the Haitian Revolution. Died in a French prison after being betrayed by a friend.
Big Bill Haywood, socialist labor leader. One of the founders of the IWW. Faced National Guard and corporate gunmen and martial law during strikes, acquitted of a murder charge, fled to Russia while appealing an espionage conviction for advocating draft resistance during WWI and for intimidation during labor actions.
Guy Fawkes, "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions," was involved in one of the many Christian-killing-Christian sprees when he was in on a plot to blow up the Protestant King James. Although not on par with the other revolutionaries in service to his fellow man, Fawkes has become the very symbol of revolution. Brits celebrate Bonfire Day in his honor when they burn effigies of all sorts of political villains. Masks bearing his likeness abound in protests.
Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader who resisted the dislocation of Native Americans due to the western expansion of the US. He was a brave, skilled warrior and a powerful orator who strove for a tribal confederacy to resist the theft of Indian lands. His prowess at oratory and war were respected by all and his name became a symbol of the warrior spirit. It is used for a courtyard in the US Naval Academy, on four US navy vessels, the middle name of General William Tecumseh Sherman, several towns, many buildings, an engine manufacturer, and even a curse.
Fredrick Douglass, born a slave, learned to read while in slavery, escaped via the underground railroad to a shaky freedom, traveled to Ireland where he was treated as an equal and gained money to buy his freedom in the states. Was a sought-after orator and a newspaper editor advocating for freedom and the right to vote for all, black and white, men and women. Shortly before his death, his advice to a young, black activist was, "Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!" There is a bit of a question about whether this orator and philosopher was a "revolutionary." The number of times he was beaten for his ideas and the fact he had to flee the country for a while because of his friends and associations tipped the scale for me.
Howard Zinn is the author of A People's History of the United States and many other works. Does a historian who eloquently gives a revolutionary look at the propaganda called "American history" that is fed to the youth of this country qualify fully as a "revolutionary?" A review of his life and actions removed my doubts.
Emiliano Zapata was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution, the main leader of the peasant revolution in the state of Morelos, and the inspiration of the agrarian movement called Zapatismo. Zapata was intensely interested in the rights of the peasants and in land reform. He held his ground for several years but eventually, in the confused and conflicted revolution, was betrayed and executed.
History and legend merge together around these revolutionary individuals and it takes some study to understand what really transpired. My reading has informed me that the history I learned in the 50s and 60s was really propaganda; fanciful legends spun by the cult of the US empire to sanitize a steaming pile of murderous greed. Wikipedia is not bad as a preliminary source since it often references materials closer to the source, which helps check information that may seem questionable. Since starting this project, I have found that much of my school education on the topic of history has been replaced with facts that have led me in a direction with more likelihood of being true.
What have I learned so far? I have learned how much I enjoy reading real history accounts; the stories of these heroes lightens and livens my spirit. The exercise has led me to ask: What are the common traits found in these people? What should we look for in those who might be instrumental in leading us out of the unsavory mess in which we now wallow?
None of these people were narcissists or out to con. None were mass murderers or brutal dictators, contrary to what I had heard in school and in the propaganda that passes for mainstream news. That applies to both Fidel and Che. While some of them were brutal in protecting their revolutions, it is easy to see that they were responding to lethal attacks and treachery. Several of the people on the list died as a direct result of betrayal. A common thread of these people is they were both brave and idealistic. These revolutionaries had respect and compassion for the common man. They tried to keep their word and were effective communicators, whether by oration, song or writing. Many were union leaders; I was amazed how many of these people were in the International Workers of the World, or Wobblies.
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