Helen Keller’s activism was ahead of her time

Helen Keller

On this day, as we celebrate the birthday of Helen Keller, let us honor her memory by reflecting on her multifaceted contributions to social and political movements. Keller’s indomitable spirit, compassion, and unwavering commitment to equality serve as an enduring inspiration for generations to come.

Her words continue to resonate: “The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor.”

Today would have been the 142nd birthday of Helen Keller, who is widely known for her inspirational journey as a deaf-blind author, lecturer, and advocate for the disabled, her contributions to various social and political causes often go unnoticed.

Keller’s unwavering dedication to social justice issues, such as women’s suffrage, pacifism, radical socialism, and birth control, sets her apart as a visionary and trailblazer.

Helen Keller, born on June 27, 1880, faced immense personal challenges due to her deaf-blindness. Nevertheless, she overcame these obstacles with the help of her beloved teacher, Anne Sullivan, and went on to achieve academic success, becoming the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

A fantastic writer who lost her ability to see and hear when she was merely 19 months old, Keller defied all odds and wrote words that touched several hearts.

Keller’s remarkable achievements served as a testament to the power of determination and resilience.

Beyond her individual triumphs, Keller recognized the importance of collective progress and devoted herself to advocating for a more just and equitable society. She fervently believed that societal transformation required addressing the systemic issues that perpetuated inequality and exploitation.

As a suffragist, Keller fought tirelessly for women’s right to vote. She understood that the political agency of women was crucial for achieving gender equality and empowering future generations. Keller recognized that the prevailing power structures catered to the privileged few and emphasized the urgent need for a more inclusive democracy.

Keller’s pacifist stance stemmed from her firm belief in the power of non-violence and the inherent value of every human life. She ardently opposed war and actively participated in anti-war movements, advocating for peaceful resolutions to conflicts. Her experiences and insights as a disabled person shaped her perspective, fostering a deep empathy and understanding of the devastating consequences of violence and armed conflicts.

Embracing radical socialism, Keller criticized the prevailing economic system that perpetuated vast disparities between the rich and the poor. She recognized that the country’s governance heavily favored the interests of corporations, bankers, and land speculators while exploiting the labor force. Keller envisioned a society that prioritized the needs of all individuals and challenged the status quo to achieve economic justice.

Keller’s advocacy for birth control demonstrated her commitment to reproductive rights and women’s autonomy over their bodies. Recognizing the significance of family planning in empowering women and promoting overall well-being, she supported efforts to provide accessible and comprehensive reproductive healthcare options.

Throughout her life, Helen Keller’s activism was grounded in her unwavering belief in the power of collective action to effect positive change. She used her platform to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and challenge the societal norms that perpetuated injustice.

Helen Keller achieved international fame as a young deaf and blind girl who learned to read, write, and speak. But while the story of her early years is widely known, fewer people are aware of how Keller used her fame for the remainder of her long life.

In the illuminating new book “After the Miracle: The Political Crusades of Helen Keller,” Max Wallace highlights Keller’s abiding devotion to radical leftist causes, which included speaking out against Jim Crow, Nazism, McCarthyism, and more.

Wallace, an author and advocate for people with disabilities, argues that because Keller’s political activity invited controversy – she was an avowed socialist – many have preferred to remember her merely as an inspirational child. “No matter the significance of events that took place in Alabama when Helen was six,” he writes, “they have served to largely overshadow or erase the extraordinary eighty years of her life that followed.”

The author doesn’t neglect the familiar narrative, opening the book with a summary of his subject’s Southern childhood. Born in 1880, Keller contracted an illness at 19 months that left her blind and deaf. Anne Sullivan came to live with the Keller family when Helen was 6 years old, to serve as the child’s private teacher.

Sullivan began to spell words with her finger into her pupil’s hand. Within weeks they experienced the breakthrough at a water pump that was immortalized in “The Miracle Worker,” which premiered as a TV movie in 1957 and was later adapted into a Broadway play and feature film. As Sullivan spelled the word “water” into Keller’s hand while water from a pump rushed over the other, young Helen made the connection between words and objects. Her education progressed quickly from there.

Alexander Graham Bell was among those who spread the word of her accomplishments. (Bell’s mother and wife were deaf, and he had long been involved with research into hearing and speech.) Keller developed a friendship with Mark Twain that lasted until the author’s death in 1910. He is said to have called Keller and Napoleon the two most interesting people of the 19th century. She was invited to the White House to visit Grover Cleveland, the first of 13 U.S. presidents she would meet during her lifetime.

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