The world lost one of its great leaders with Nelson Mandela’s death. Around the globe, people have mourned the loss and celebrated the inspiration that, as President Obama put it, “one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth” gave to all of humanity.
Mandela’s vision, ideals, and principled life have inspired countless struggles for freedom and equality worldwide. His unbending resolve and unmatched political and organizing skill have taught many how to turn dreams into reality. “It always seems impossible,” he said, “until it’s done.”
Power in numbers
Mandela knew that power comes from unity and collective action. The national stay-at-home strike that he helped lead in May 1961, like all strikes in South Africa then, was illegal and helped lead to his life sentence and 27 years in prison. But it was a demonstration of two things: collective power and the inextricable link between freedom and workers’ rights.
“We are the people of this country. We produce the wealth of the gold mines, of the farms, and of industry,” wrote Mandela in June 1961 about the strike. “Non-collaboration is the weapon we must use to bring down the government.” As the Congress of South African Trade Unions put it, Mandela stood against “the exploitation of workers and the poor,” just as he did against racist dictatorship and brutality.
Mandela is revered for his unyielding commitment to freedom and justice, for his fearlessness, and his brilliant leadership. He was offered conditional release from prison several times. And each time, he refused: There can be no conditions on freedom.
But he was also a very real person. “I am not a saint,” he’d say when given too much praise, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
The world very much still needs the example, direction, and grace that Mandela gave us. We honor him best by keeping on trying, by carrying his vision forward in the care we give our patients every day, in our organizing efforts, in our fight for quality healthcare for all, and in all our work to make the world a better place.