THE LEGACY OF RADICAL RESISTANCE
For many of us, especially those of us who are younger, who grew
up in the last few decades or so, the world is a dizzying place,
and one looks at it always with a touch of wonderment, as a puzzle
not quite finished. For such a one, it is easy to ask questions
about why the world is, as it is, and not to receive any sufficient
It is easier still to shrug one's shoulders, and to say to oneself,
'Hey, that's the way things have always been. No biggie.'
But that reassuring echo is never quite what one really wants.
It reassures, but only until the next question, the next inquiry,
the next incongruity, or the next puzzle.
We think the way we do because there are things all around us,
that fairly shout to us, asking 'Why is this like this?' After a
while, we learn to ignore such things.
But there are answers.
It's just that the answers are not easy to find, or are generally
obscured by those who govern the social order.
The answers sometimes lie in what may be called Hidden History.
It is a fact that most of the people in what is now called the
United States hail from some part of Europe. This is true for perhaps
75% of the national population. (This is also not an accident, but
due to early, post-Revolutionary War statutes that specifically
excluded nonwhite persons from citizenship, but that is another
story...). That Europe that we see in most history books, that tells
of the great deeds of kings or princes, is not the Europe that most
Americans came from. They came from a Europe that was place of soul-stifling
repression, where hunger, want, and fear were daily presences. They
come from people who fought or fled from the greed of the princes.
They come from long and really extraordinary legacies of resistance
to the monied people on the hill.
For, if not for the deep impulse to escape from that which is intolerable,
why would so many come here? Let's look AT this logically. Who really
leaves their hearth and home for a new strange land, except for
those who find life almost intolerable?
The usual, accepted history was written by the rulers, or taught
by people who wanted to be sponsored by the rulers. There was ample
evidence of the "crazy priest" of Kent County, old England,
or at least, that's how the historians of the day described him.
Listen to John Ball's speech to the masses one Sunday:
" My good friends, things cannot go on well in England, nor
ever will until everything shall be in common; when the lords shall
be no more masters than ourselves. How ill have they used us ? and
for what reason do they thus hold us in bondage ? Are we not all
descended from the same parents, Adam and Eve ? and what can they
show, or what reasons give, why they should be more the masters
than ourselves ? except, perhaps, in making us labor and work for
them to spend."
The "crazy priest" of Kent County made the grievances
of his poor parish well known, saying:
"They are clothed in velvets and rich stuffs, ornamented with
ermine and other furs, while we are forced to wear poor cloth. They
have wines, spices and fine bread, when we have only rye and the
refuse of the straw; and if we drink, it must be water. They have
handsome seats and manors, when we must brave the wind and rain
in our labors in the fields; but it is from our labor they have
wherewith to support their pomp. We are called slaves; and, if we
do not perform our services, we are beaten, and we have not any
sovereign to whom we can complain, or who wishes to hear us and
do us justice.... " [C.H. George, 500 Years of Revolution (Kerr,
John Ball, Jack Straw and Wat Tyler led tens of thousands of the
disenchanted poor to London to ask the young king [Edward III] for
help. Tyler was murdered during his meeting with the king, the poor
were lied to by the king, and the rebellion was crushed. But read
John Ball's "harangue" again, please. He was preaching
to the poor in June, 1381 --- over 600 years ago! He was many things,
I'm sure, but "crazy" wasn't one of them. The craziest
thing he did was to trust the king.
Such acts of class rebellion and popular resistance happened hundreds
and hundreds of times by the poor and oppressed of Europe. But when
the history of Europe is written, more likely than not, it's the
sagas of kings, not that of rebels, that is recorded. John Ball,
and many like him, is part of the hidden history of the poor, rather
than the privileged.
From examples like this, we learn of a long and rich legacy of
resistance. It is something for us all to learn and build on.
Mumia Abu-Jamal. (March 2001).