“You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up. Those puny little ants outnumber us a hundred to one. And if they ever figure that out, there goes our way of life! It’s not about food. It’s about keeping those ants in line.”
While the quote is from an animated film, “A Bug’s Life,” It earnestly echoes the fears resonating in the hearts of all tyrants seeking to maintain control. In the film, a clumsy but well-intentioned ant named Flik struggles to make a difference in his world by inventing gadgets along the way, striving to help his fellow ants.
During one scene, a bully gang of grasshoppers are making their annual shake-down visit to the colony and are confronted by Flik- the only ant willing to step-up. After the leader of the grasshoppers, named (appropriately, I might add) “Hopper,” threatens the queen by pickling on her youngest daughter, Flik yells “leave her alone!” When Hopper bullies Flik into backing down, Flik shrinks back into the crowd.
Hopper understands all too well the danger of allowing those under submission to have a voice. When it comes to those in power, there is nothing, literally nothing that they will not do to squash dissent. However, throughout history, the powers that be have learned that while it can be nullified, dissension is impossible to kill. True resolve is such that for everyone you defeat, several rise up in their place.
All it takes in the beginning is just one.
Those individuals that truly recognize this change the world.
There have been many over the years, David-like warriors who have stood fearlessly, sometimes fearfully against Goliath-like individuals, groups, and organizations, willing to pay the ultimate price. Such was the case of civil rights activist, Malcom X. Once sold-out to radical group, the Nation of Islam, he was a natural leader, powerful speaker, and principled soldier for the cause; he was indeed a force to be reckoned with.
However, upon realizing that his loyalty and affiliation were misplaced, and his trust in the NOI’s leader abused, he could no longer remain silent-he instantly separated himself. Clearly outnumbered, he unflinchingly stood against the immense Nation, no longer willing to fall in line, or tow it; he recognized that such a stand would ultimately cost him his life.
As a testament to his life, Malcolm X remarked the following in his autobiography: “To come right down to it, if I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add to that the kind of temperament that I have, plus the one hundred percent dedication I have to whatever I believe in– these are ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age.”
Truer words have rarely been spoken.
On February 21st, 1965, he was assassinated by the very group of people he once represented so well. Nearly forty years later, the world would come to know another such man willing to stand and pay the ultimate price for what he believed.
In 1989, civil unrest had grown in China, following the death of Hu Yaobang, a high-ranking official in the People’s Republic of China. Hu led efforts to launch China into capitalism and social change, but had an unexpected heart attack during a Politburo meeting.
Based on Hu’s stance concerning political and economic reform, had he stayed in position the China as we know would not exist. Following his death, more than 100,000 students took to the streets seeking an end to the corruption, picking up Hu’s Baton. After being accused of sparking an uprising rather than a protest for change, the students’ anger led to an even bigger protest from Apr 15, 1989 – Jun 4, 1989.
The Chinese army’s response was both brutal and bloody.
After Martial Law was declared, troops began moving in on Tiananmen Square and opened fire, crushing and arresting protestors. In what the CCP called “the suppression of counter-revolutionary riots”, at least 10,000 unarmed civilians were murdered with hundreds more injured.
One day later on June 5th, 1989, a CNN camera crew filmed the military response, as tanks rolled down the main streets of China, away from the Square in the process of carrying out their mission. As they captured those legendary images, one lone man carrying shopping bags was filmed walking down the street heading directly into the path of the oncoming tanks.
History.com highlights that unforgettable moment:
“Time magazine has referred to him as the “Unknown Rebel,” and included him in its list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. But the identity of the lone, brave protester— captured on film and in countless photos giving a defiant “stop” sign to a phalanx of Chinese tanks rumbling through Tiananmen Square— remains shrouded in mystery.
To most, he is known simply as “Tank Man,” a nickname given him by the British tabloids. His gesture has since become an enduring symbol of the bloody uprising in Beijing. His defiance slowed the government crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters.
As documented by film taken at the time, Tank Man- wearing a simple white shirt, dark pants and carrying two shopping bags, initially halted the tanks by displaying the palm of his right hand in what is universally recognized as the signal for “stop.” The tanks did indeed stop, and Tank Man was seen climbing up the front of the lead tank, and standing on it for several moments, during which time he spoke with a crew member.
Though the tanks attempted to maneuver around Tank Man, he repeatedly moved to block their path.”
He was eventually led away by others. However, what had occurred was indisputable.
One man stood against many.
While this “Tank-Man” officially remains unidentified, the photo that graced the covers of every media publication for months in 1989, will forever reverberate through history as an embodiment of courage. History does not reveal what fate he suffered as a repercussion, but what we do know is that he risked his life to stand where others dared not to.
The past records many such stories, some risking all with insurmountable odds greater than these. It records as well that irrespective of how it looks, we have had many more Goliath’s than David’s. All that remains now, is that we each recognize the giants in our lives- and slay them.