Inspiration for activists

The author of The Lifelong Activist, Hillary Rettig, sent me a lovely quote and a recommendation.

First, the quote:

Those who profess to favor freedom, yet depreciate agitation, are men who
want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and
lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be
both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing
without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Frederick Douglass, American Abolitionist, Letter to an associate, 1849

And now the recommendations:

Two great resources for anyone interested in the history and mechanisms of
social movements and social change. First, the movie Amazing Grace which
was recently released and may still be out in a few theaters. It’s the
story of the British abolitionists who waged a 30+ year battle to get
slavery outlawed – and won. Lots of people thought they were impolite, too,
but they got the job done. The movie is entertaining but serious – it also
shows the importance of perseverance during dark times.

Another resource is Adam Hochschild’s terrific book Bury the Chains, which
came out a couple of years ago and tells the exact same story. Hochschild
is a wonderful writer and popular historian, and his book really fleshes out
the one in the movie. Moreover, he provides wonderful context and reason
for optimism:

“At the end of the eighteenth century, well over three quarters of all
people alive were in some kind of bondage of one kind or another, not the
captivity of striped prison uniforms, but of various systems of slavery or
serfdoms…This world of bondage seemed all the more normal then, because
anyone looking back in time would have seen little but other slave systems.
The ancient Greeks had slaves; the Romans had an estimated two or three
million of them in Italy alone; the Incas and Aztecs had slaves; the sacred
texts of most major religions took slavery for granted. Slavery had existed
before money or written laws.

“Looking back today, what is even more astonishing than the pervasiveness of
slavery in the late 1700s is how switfly it died. By the end of the
following century, slavery was, at least on paper, outlawed almost
everywhere. The antislavery movement had achieved its goal in little more
than one lifetime.”

Humanists can best work against religiosity by studying history as you
suggest – by learning about how social movements win.

Thanks, Hillary!


  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    April 23, 2007

    That’s right. The Pope abolished limbo last year.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    April 23, 2007

    That’s right. The Pope abolished limbo last year.

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