Friday, August 14, 2009

My Heroes: Speaking Truth to Power

One of my very first posts in this blog was just a stub pointing to a collection of portraits of Americans Who Tell the Truth, by Robert Shetterly. (I couldn't find the book for sale there, and just bought it here.)

It's a good collection, but it's missing some of my heroes. Emma Goldman is in it, but Starhawk and Alice Walker are missing. I'll ask Shetterly if he wants to add them to his traveling exhibit. My own list of people who haven (powerfully) spoken truth to power is international. I was moved to write this by some posts I just read online about my favorite educator, Paulo Freire, a Brazilian who I'll say more about later.

Shetterly's title reminded me of the phrase 'speak truth to power'. Googling it led me to a Quaker document on pacifism (written in 1955), with this explanation of the phrase:

Our title, Speak Truth to Power, taken from a charge given to Eighteenth Century Friends, suggests the effort that is made to speak from the deepest insight of the Quaker faith, as this faith is understood by those who prepared this study. We speak to power in three senses:

  • To those who hold high places in our national life and bear the terrible responsibility of making decisions for war or peace.
  • To the American people who are the final reservoir of power in this country and whose values and expectations set the limits for those who exercise authority.
  • To the idea of Power itself, and its impact on Twentieth Century life.
Our truth is an ancient one: that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden. This truth, fundamental to the position which rejects reliance on the method of war, is ultimately a religious perception, a belief that stands outside of history.
The list of those who speak truth to power is long. So begins another series in this blog: portraits of my heroes. (If you're enjoying the bibliographies, don't worry, I've still got lots of those coming.) I debated using the word heroes, because I don't want to put them on such a pedestal that they seem unreachable. But we can all be heroes. Remember June Jordan's (and Alice Walker's and Barak Obama's) words: "We are the ones we've been waiting for." My heroes are my inspiration to do the most powerful work I can.


Here's who I'd like to write about eventually (this list will lengthen over time):

Paulo Freire (here's the site that started me writing today)
Rebeca Wild
Deborah Meier

Emma Goldman
Starhawk (activism page on her website, and her Newsweek (!) column)

Alice Walker
Adrienne Rich
Barbara Kingsolver


  1. Kudos to Owen, whose post over at Open A Vein reminded me of how much I love Freire.

  2. thanks for the nod; i'll return by mentioning
    that it was a mention by you a few weeks ago
    that got me to open up my dustgathering

    alice walker i've read a *little* of
    but have the honor to have a goodly
    collection of since this here is madeline's
    library at least as much as mine
    (until i move in if ever and overwhelm it
    with the thousands of volumes across town).

    starhawk i've heard of from time to time
    in the zine underground and whatnot but
    evidently she's learned heroic promo skills
    and appears to be emerging as an outright
    celebrity. of paganism, mind you... so there'll
    be some "notoriety"... this is where the
    heroic quality comes in i expect...

    others on your list i'll only have glanced at.
    red emma is a hero of all the people of course
    but i know her mostly by her legend not her work;
    i've (and recently at that) looked inside _living_my_life_
    but that's about it. looks like a great lineup!

  3. In my opinion, Living My Life (Goldman's autobiography) wasn't nearly as good as Richard Drinnon's biography of her, Rebel in Paradise. I found that book, and got my introduction to anarchism, in some random browsing through the library many years ago.

  4. Psychologist:

    A lot of people currently called "edupunks" probably belong.

  5. Maria, could you tell me a little about Dabrowski and the edupunks?