One evening in November, I joined a small group at the Mustard
Seed to reminisce on the life of the late Michael True, pacifist and professor
emeritus at Assumption College.
The reminiscences were delightful and inspirational. Several tales, like the one told by Scholar and Catholic Worker Michael Boover, touted Mike’s pacifist tenacity
According to Mr. Boover, Mr. True had invited Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, to speak in the city sometime in the early seventies. It was one of several visits Ms. Day would make to the city on Mike’s request.
On this particular visit, Mr. True, seeking to maximize every second of Ms. Day inspirational presence, scheduled her a full plate of speaking engagements at the city’s consortium of colleges.
After speaking at Worcester State College and while waiting for a bus to take to her next engagement, Ms. Day uttered a mild difference of opinion on what she viewed as Mr. True’s bullish estimation of her stamina.
And she did so by invoking the name of Ammon Hennacy, political radical and the author of “The One-Man Revolution in America.”
“That Mike True,” she
said, according to Mr. Boover, who was an undergraduate at Worcester State at
“He thinks I’m Ammon Hennacy, a one-man revolutionary. I’m an old lady.”
Notwithstanding her age(She was in her seventies at the time), “She did pretty good in my estimation,” Mr. Boover said.
It wasn’t surprising. Ms. Day’s activism, as was that of Mr. True’s, was fueled by the indefatigable tenacity of her convictions; her belief that “We have failed as Americans in living up to our principles.”
A canonization process for Ms. Day is underway, which if successful would make her only the fourth American-born Catholic to be canonized. Of course, we know her views on that.
“Don’t call me a saint,” she once said.
“I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”
She meant, I believe, that she was just as imperfect as anyone else; that our imperfections are not de facto barriers to heroism.
It’s a point Mr. True seemed to have also made in his book, “Justice Seekers, Peace Makers,” which chronicled “heroes and heroines… who serve as examples for tasks that need doing” throughout the ages.
Ms. Day, Stanley Kunitz, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Orwell, Leo Tolstoy, Abigail Kelley, Symonds Foster and Thomas Paine are eight of the 32 individuals portrayed as “Portraits in Courage” in Mr. True’s book.
“The point is not that they are flawless (although a couple of them were saints), he wrote in the book’s introduction.
“But that in times of suffering or happiness, failure or success, they upheld values on the side of life.
“They spoke truth to power and exposed injustices associated with war and oppression. Even with their obvious limitations, inconsistencies, these women and men make it easier for us to be good.
“Our problem at present…is not a lack of heroes and
heroines, but our failure to recognize them when they appear in our midst.”
It is true that activists who shine a light on the inequalities and injustices of our social and political systems are often scorned in their times, out of a fear of change, perhaps.
Yet, interestingly, many of these activists are also embraced after they are gone, reflecting our capacity to be understanding of their truths when our conscience is no longer troubled by their presence.
I left the Mustard Seed that November evening humbled by how
little I knew about this city’s revolutionaries, abolitionists, labor radicals,
peacemakers and poets and writers–a “long ignored history,” that Mike “loved
to break open,” his friend Dave O’Brien and emeritus professor at the College
of the Holy Cross noted in a Telegram
& Gazette opinion piece.
And it occurred to me that these revolutionaries can be found
in communities all over the country.
But where are they now, you might ask, now that there is a mammoth task to be undertaken–saving our democracy?
To be sure, there are here in our midst. Elizabeth Warren, for example,. If you don’t recognize her as a needed revolutionary at the moment, you will in time.
But the question really should be, where are you?
Where are you in this moment when you can go to bed in a
democracy and wake up in an autocracy?
Where are you now that a man (Michael Bloomberg) who
represents all that is wrong with the good guys is the refuge many now seek to escape
the man (Donald Trump) who champions the immeasurable corruption of the bad guy
Where are you now, now that you should be a revolutionary–marching in the streets and beating back this looming abyss with defiant voices and clenched fists.
You are no radical, you say.
Well, you shouldn’t dismiss your potential heroism so easily.