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The Dangers of Heroes

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

by: Barbara Peterson - August 2019

I love stories where the lone hero or small group of heroic warriors sweep in to combat the growing evil infecting our society and land. From King Arthur and his Round-Table Knights instituting democratic principles in a feudal society, Wonder Woman fighting for truth and justice, Harry Potter and his supporters defeating the demonic Voldemort, and Katniss Everdeen sacrificing her own safety to overthrow a ruthless, authoritarian regime, the idea of bold and courageous people selflessly risking everything to destroy evil is a wonderful fantasy.

While heroes are useful in highlighting the characteristics we value, showing us what we should all strive to be, they can also cripple our ability to do what is required to save ourselves. In this political season looking toward the 2020 elections, I worry that people believe the vast majority of our problems are over if we elect a heroic POTUS, and perhaps also a critical mass of progressive legislators, who will don their capes and wipe out corruption so we may all live in a society that cherishes human and environmental rights and equality. While wonderful to believe, I’m afraid this is only fantasy because the sort of changes we need in society require major shifts in redistributing power and resources, changes that go far deeper and broader than creating some new laws and policies within our current, broken system.

It is true that we are in far better shape with elected officials who show informed moral integrity, who pass legislation that protects and supports the environment and public goods, such as education, health care, state parks, child care, etc. However, regardless of how good our elected officials are, we risk too much leaving the governance of millions entirely in the hands of a relatively few individuals. This invites corruption, as such a great amount of power generally does. Additionally, we cannot expect a broken government system to be significantly improved by simply putting new people at the helm.

For too long, corporate interests have dictated not only our laws, policies, and regulations but also they’ve become experts at driving the narrative. This has increased markedly since the 1970s but was in full operation long before then. Our “fixes” and “improvements” have been within the confines of corporate and politically elite needs. We gain relatively minor changes that keep the status quo, instead of effecting necessary radical shifts. The only time we do achieve significant improvements is when the people organize to demand it. Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the New Deals, not out of a sense of decency or desire to put people first but, in his words, “to save capitalism.” He enacted these policies only because of the popular dissent campaigns that joined massive workers’ strikes in opposing government corruption and economic injustice. It always has been the people who have made deep-rooted changes in our government and society. When we unite and organize, we have and can continue to have the most powerful influence on structural improvements in our socio-political power relations.

Until we make real changes in how power is distributed in our society, until we spread out the loci of decision-making, we won’t see the kinds of changes the people want and need for human rights, economic justice, and environmental sustainability. This is precisely why we need a massive, nonviolent people’s movement that redistributes power more equitably into the grassroots organizations, institutions, and associations that have formed in the past few years and those that were already in existence. Groups that advocate for at-risk populations, work for environmentally sustainable policies and practices, demand gender freedom and equality, and fight against all forms of oppression should network and form a sound, democratic communication and decision-making model that enables them to come together when needed to insist, en masse, that our government answer to the needs of the people.

It may be time to stop waiting for a hero who will come save us. The tools exist, and they have been used for centuries by populations all over the world, to empower the people enough to institute deep-rooted and broad-based changes that protect our democracy, human rights, and our land. By learning how to use these nonviolent action tools, as we just recently saw in Puerto Rico, we in the Resistance can become much more effective in wielding the level of people power required to have a thriving and emancipatory democracy that, first and always, meets the needs of the people instead of the private agendas of corporations and narrow-thinking political office holders. WE are the ones we have been waiting for. Let’s get to work!

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