Mandela and the responsibility of activism

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

President Obama gave a great speech at the Mandela memorial in South Africa today about the responsibility of fighting inequality and injustice. I want to focus on excerpts that touch on action– “of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.” By action, Obama means activism; and Mandela’s death has reminded many people of the nobility of activism, of the realization that your principles are so important to you that you must do something, whether that doing means writing or organizing or standing up to soldiers.

Obama said that Mandela’s example made him an activist in his own way. Here’s the president’s activist creed:

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.  Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father.  And we know he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people,” he said….

And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice.  We, too, must act on behalf of peace.  There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality…

I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection.  With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask:  How well have I applied his lessons in my own life?  It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President…. in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done….

Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land, and it stirred something in me.  It woke me up to my responsibilities to others and to myself, and it set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today.  And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man.  (Applause.)  He speaks to what’s best inside us.

Last night on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams exulted over Bono as an “activist.”

Last night on NBC Nightly News, Jimmy Carter explained that he had an instant connection with Mandela when he met him because his daughter Amy Carter had three times been arrested demonstrating against apartheid.

Yesterday Americans for Middle East Understanding sent me a fundraising note in which it reminded people that Lowell Weicker was a selective activist: 

As a senator, Weicker was arrested for demonstrating against apartheid in front of the South African embassy in Washington. At the same time, he was taking money from the pro-Israel lobby to close his eyes to the travesty in the Holy Land; the lobby rated his loyalty at close to 100 percent. [as related by John Mahoney]

Isn’t it time to celebrate the brave activists in the Israel/Palestine conflict? As poet Susie Abulhawa writes about the anti-occupation activist Samer Issawi:

Daylight climbs the links of your rusty prison chain


Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Phil, Obama often speaks well, but in the end he acts — strangely, to my thought, for he will never again be a candidate and has no need to collect money from AIPAC or the BIG-BANKs or BIG-OIL, etc — as if he were enmeshed in the normal Establishment-run American… Read more »

What a total hypocrite Obama is. Actions not words are what counts. All talk and no action, at least when it comes to the human rights of the Palestinian people. The man has no spine.

Phil: ‘obama gave a great speech at the Mandela’

Not sure Mondoweiss is for me when I read such statements. Obama is a hypocrite and do support apartheid for palestinians.

“anti-occupation activist” What a lovely euphemism for convicted terrorist. You stoop lower and lower Phil. / Samer, who was affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine,[1] allegedly manufactured and distributed pipe bombs and in several instances fired indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. He was convicted of membership in… Read more »