Tony Benn, a leader Labor politician died at the age of 88 today. He was a man of principle, and has been praised even by those politicians who didn’t always agree with him.
But one leading politician praised him for “defending the powerless.” I found myself bristling.
From my limited perspective, Benn did not degrade members of the working class whom he represented by calling them powerless. He did not suggest that people with less money, less education, or with other social or economic disadvantages were merely helpless victims who had to be helped by the more fortunate.
Yes, he fought for justice. Yes, he fought tenaciously for human rights, for democracy, for education. But I never heard him suggest that anybody is without choice, that anybody must submit to being a victim because they are powerless.
Do we need help sometimes? Absolutely! But the first step in not being a victim is to refuse to be one. One of the things counselors for rape victims sometimes find is that some women insist on identifying some behaviors in which they engaged which may have been interpreted – however wrongly – as a come-on. What the women are saying is that they can take some responsibility for what happens to them in the future, that they are not powerless, that they refuse to be nothing more than victims to explain what happens to them.
We might not always like our choices. But as long as we are conscious, we can choose.