Saturday, November 6, 2010

American Saints: A Zine in Progress

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I got the idea for this zine when I was watching the special features of the DVD “Milk,” the biopic about gay rights icon Harvey Milk. One of his friends called him “an American saint.” This is not to say that he was perfect. On the contrary, his personal life was often a mess, Harvey’s friend said. However, what made him a kind of saint was what he contributed to the world. Harvey Milk devoted his life to fighting for equal rights for gays and ending discrimination. In the end, it cost him his life.

For me, a saint is someone who sacrifices their time, resources, money, and sometimes even their life for other people, for the greater good, and for the progress of society and culture. A saint, to me, is someone who envisions a more just, peaceful, and beautiful world, and who struggles to bring it about.

Unfortunately, history books often overlook such figures. In grade school, when studying American history, I learned about Columbus, Washington, Jefferson, etc.—those who had power. I did not learn about Harvey Milk, Woody Guthrie, Medgar Evers, Alan Lomax, and all those who struggled to give voice to the powerless.

It wasn’t until I was out of school, and reading non-required books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, that I learned about these unsung heroes. I also learned that many of the so-called “heroes” I’d read about in history books were actually not so heroic. Columbus committed genocide against the Arawak Indians, Washington and Jefferson owned slaves and were two of the richest men in America.

My goal in writing this little zine is to give a “shout out” to some of the most truly heroic and selfless people of American history, people who the history books don’t discuss much. If I can shed some light on some of these often-overlooked figures, and perhaps inspire someone, then I will have accomplished my purpose.

People often feel powerless in the face of social problems or injustice. I think that, by looking backward for a moment at some of these folks who raised their fists to injustice, who spoke truth to power, we might feel empowered to learn from their example, and endeavor to continue their struggle for a better world.

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