10 Middle-Aged Activists That Shape The World We Live In
In Man and Superman, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw famously stated, "the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
In light of the recent uptick in protests and popular uprisings, we're presenting our list of 10 activists that shape the world we live in - by no means a definitive catalogue, but one we're sure you'll appreciate nonetheless:
When Michael Moore showed up at the Occupy Wall Street protests to show his solidarity, whichever media outlets hadn't been covering the demonstrations immediately descended on Zuccotti Park to report on the growing movement, proving once again that he is the unrivaled king of the disenchanted left. His documentaries have broken box office records, his books have dominated the New York Times bestsellers list and if that weren't enough, his film Sicko made health care a major issue in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries and in turn led to the eventual passage of the most controversial piece of legislation from the Obama administration. The man deserves some universal respect.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben, perhaps the nation's leading expert on climate change, has been writing about the dangers of man-made global warming since the 1980s. In 2010, McKibben's website, 350.org, was responsible for 10/10/10 Global Work Party - a day of practical action to cut carbon, which Foreign Policy magazine called "the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind." He was arrested last month at the White House for protesting the Keystone pipeline project.
Contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has been one of the fiercest critics of the Communist Party in China, garnering praise and coverage each time he calls out his government on their suppression of dissent and violations of human rights. In April 2011, Weiwei was imprisoned in Beijing for two months without formal charges ever being filed by authorities. His subsequent return to activism and the level of support garnered by Weiwei as a result of his imprisonment indicate the artist won't be stopping any time soon.
West first invaded the public consciousness in 2000 when, as a professor, he publicly sparred with his boss, Harvard president and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers over his perceived unprofessional conduct. West has been criticized by some in the academic community for being hyperbolic and unscholarly, though his unflinching commitment to civic engagement - especially among youth - has made him an icon for young people on the left and those who believe in his fight against what he calls, "a dangerous and encroaching nihilism in American Democracy."
If you find yourself in a discussion about gay rights and the name Dan Savage hasn't been brought up in the first 5 minutes it's safe to assume you're only 4 minutes into the conversation. As the man behind the It Gets Better Project - the campaign that produced video messages from public figures urging gay youth to remain resolute in the face of bullying, columnist Dan Savage solidified his name in the gay rights community as a leader capable of generating enthusiasm from people across the social spectrum. In response to 2003 comments made by then-Senator Rick Santorum comparing homosexuality to bestiality and molestation, Savage urged his readers to coin an alternate 'sexualized' definition for the word, 'Santorum.' The website promoting his definition is the first return users see when googling Rick Santorum, save for a paid advertisement from the candidate's camp.
Love him or hate him, conservative activist Grover Norquist has succeeded in his stated desire to move the Republican Party towards a position of rejecting tax increases in any and all forms. Supporters say his efforts to rein in the size of government are changing the public discussion for the better while detractors say his 'no tax under any circumstances' pledges have brought the United States government to an unprecedented standstill. Either way, the man is undoubtedly shaping the times we live in.
As president and co-founder of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Ingrid Newkirk has pushed her animal rights message through bold and controversial actions that have included throwing buckets of red paint on women wearing fur coats and publically projecting videos of slaughterhouses. Opponents say Newkirk does the movement more harm than good. However, a recent HBO documentary about the activist proved that even if PETA occasionally falls short of garnering positive publicity their president is capable of generating plenty of it.
As a leader of the third-wave feminist movement in the 1980s and 90s, Naomi Wolf made her name as a gifted author and vocal critic of the persisting sexist and patriarchal elements of American society. Both Clinton and Gore hired her to do outreach to female voters during their respective Presidential runs. Unhindered passion and rapid output has consistently kept the author at the top of best-sellers lists and in the public consciousness - her arrest earlier this month at the Occupy Wall Street protests prove she's not slowing down.
Glenn Beck has said the most chilling moment in his career came when the Obama administration announced that Van Jones would be named Special Advisor on Green Jobs. Though Jones later resigned when controversial past associations became public, Arianna Huffington said it best when she opined that his resignation would free him from being "tied to his desk with a sock in his mouth." If Beck does indeed fear progressivism as the end of America, then the former 'Green Jobs Czar' gives him plenty to worry about: When Van Jones speaks he is dynamic, captivating and inspiring and his message for a fairer America has resonated with the Wall Street protesters and voters in cities across America.
What would a list of activists be without Bono? His commitment to increased humanitarian actions in Africa has resulted in the singer being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, receiving an honorary knighthood from the Queen and being named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2005.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.