HAVANA TIMES — Very little is known about Helen Keller (June 17, 1880 – June 1, 1968) in Cuba. Cuban television, however, recently paid tribute to this great American deaf-and-blind intellectual and activist, on the occasion of the anniversary of her birth.
Cuban organizations for people with disabilities (ANCI, ANSOC and ACLIFIM) are working in conjunction with foreign counterparts and the media to create greater awareness about the difficulties these individuals face.
I was happy to see the brief homage to Keller, a US personality who begins to be known in our country in connection with the struggle for a just cause.
Helen Keller was born in Alabama and lost her sight and hearing before she had turned 12. She was, however, both fortunate and persevering: a courageous and experienced teacher (Anne Sullivan) taught her to communicate with others using her fingers. This is how Keller learned to read, using the Braille system or by way of an interpreter.
In 1904, Keller graduated with honors from the University of Radcliffe, the first deaf and blind person to obtain a university degree. She became a renowned personality and a national leader for people with a handicap.
There was, however, something that eclipsed my joy over seeing Helen Keller on Cuban television. An important dimension of her life was omitted from the information provided.
They referred to her exclusively as an intellectual, activist and leader of people with disabilities, not mentioning the fact she championed other, equally radical causes such as anti-capitalism, feminism and anti-racism.
Though US President Johnson bestowed the Presidential Freedom Medal on Helen Keller in 1964, she was never part of the establishment.
The Merciless Struggle against Capitalism
An avid reader of books on Marxist economics and anarcho-syndicalist issues, when the United States was about to enter the First World War, Keller wrote: “I have entered the fight against the economic system in which we live. It is to be an unrelenting fight to the finish.”
Aware of the class privileges that had made her social ascent as a challenged person possible, Keller studied the links between economic exploitation and disability. She was an active member of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), a union with anarchist sympathies that disdained party politics and called hundreds of strikes in the early 20th century.
In response to the remarks of her adversaries, who pathetically tried to portray her as a defenseless, deaf and blind woman ruthlessly taken advantage of by the “reds”, Helen would ironically ask them if they had ever had the opportunity to experience what “exploitation” was all about.
Keller and her fellow workers didn’t bring about the revolution, but it was the pressures brought to bear on the country by the militant proletariat, not the goodwill of the classes in power, that brought about Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression.
Opposed to militarism, racism and totalitarianism, a member of the NAACP and ACLU, a defender of trade unionist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (who had suffered reprisals from the US government), Helen Keller remained an activist even in the times of McCarthyism, something that horrified many conservative donors of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).
Cuba’s explicit adoption of capitalist-like mechanisms and structures call for silence and darkness around the committed enthusiasm of this exceptional activist, who fought against all forms of exploitation hidden under false models of “justice.”
I am sure, however, that Helen Keller will triumph over the silence and the darkness, once again.