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A Heroic Woman Departs

The world has changed so much since the 1980s that we sometimes forget just how much it has changed. The death of Corazon Aquino reminds us of some important things.

Like her contemporary Lech Walesa, Aquino came to symbolize a nation's refusal to just sit back and take the crap their government was dishing out. In Walesa's case, the Polish government was engaged in increasingly transparent and unbelievable lies; in the Philippines, the people had just about had enough of Ferdinand Marcos when his government assassinated Aquino's husband, Benigno, on the tarmac immediately upon his return to his homeland.

His wife, who always described herself as an ordinary housewife, took up his mantle and led one of the more remarkable revolutions in world history, the famed People Power Revolution, which saw Filipinos peacefully drive Marcos from power.

Six years before this, the Islamic Revolution triumphed in Iran; three years later, common Germans from either side of the Berlin Wall tore it down. Arguably, these three events changed the arc of world history.

There are no guarantees in anything of course. People Power came to a crashing halt in Tiananmen Square when the Chinese government gunned down peaceful protestors, and while Boris Yeltsin showed incredible courage when he climbed onto a tank during the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev's government, and promised great changes when he came to power, Russia has stepped back from many of his bolder ideas and has in many ways taken up the historical impulses it had under the czars and the communists.

That doesn't mean what she helped to create is dead, however. In Iran, after the questionable recent election, you saw a lot of the same impulses from the citizenry that you saw in the Philippines.

When someone asked Mao whether the French Revolution was a success, he supposedly said "it's too early to tell."

It's also too early to tell what the ultimate legacy of the People Power Revolution will be, but the fact that in recent times, people in very different parts of the world have insisted that their governments serve them instead of vice-versa is Aquino's legacy, and given what some politicians leave behind for theirs, it's a phenomenal present to the future. We are in her debt.