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North Bay Bohemian (California)

Progressives Must Start Agitating

Norman Solomon on getting out there and doing something

Juliane Poirier

(Image: Flickr Rockwellmedia)

"We need to become agitators," says Norman Solomon, Marin County
activist and co-creator of the Green New Deal for the North Bay.

"It's the agitator that gets the dirt out in the washing machine," he
explains, borrowing an analogy from Jim Hightower. Solomon sees the wash
cycle as a good behavior model for those of us who avoid political
activism in favor of safe and lazy pondering over how much trouble the
world is in right now. It's such a hassle to get involved with strangers
and go to meetings. Can't we just whine to our friends about corporate
greed and corruption in the comfort of our own homes?

We can, at high cost.

"So much is at stake for future generations and for the planet,"
declares Solomon, "that we need to be willing to organize as if our
lives and the lives of those close to us depended on it." For Solomon,
this means that as individuals and as communities we need to get more
serious about our involvement with one another and with things we care
about. "Getting involved is essential," says Solomon. "There's that
saying, 'I'm not into politics.' I say, 'But politics is into you.' When
you turn on the tap for a drink of water, that's politics."

For those who turn off like a faucet at the mention of political
activism, Solomon's approach may inspire willingness to open up and
flow. The secret seems to be finding out how "agitating" looks for each
individual. (I can just hear Garrison Keillor asking, "What are the shy
folks supposed to do?") Agitating can be direct or it can be as
uncomplicated as pursuing something we love with greater gusto than we
ever have before.

"One simple step," Solomon explains, "is to learn and to
agitate." This means choosing something close to your heart, learning
everything you possibly can about it and then becoming a source of
information for others, the go-to font of knowledge in your neighborhood
or community.

"People get afraid that they will have to do something they don't want
to do. Everyone is different, and it's important that everybody engage
at their level of passion and interest and capacity."

Can political involvement be something more uplifting than a dose of
corporate-sponsored news each night? "People look at the news and are
depressed, but activists tend to be less depressed," Solomon says.
"There's something so enlivening that happens when you share your
thoughts and feelings and ideas with others—people inspiring because of
who they are."

A critical byproduct of all this social agitation is a changed
relationship with power. "'Power' is a word that causes a lot of
ambivalence," says Solomon. "For progressives, we need power to shape
the future instead of just having it created for us. I know we will not
like it if it is created by the most powerful forces that exist right

Referencing what one beloved agitator, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,
called the paralysis of analysis, Solomon says we need to stop pondering
and get out and do something, and as a consequence, we "get to find out
what we are capable of." He believes that sinking roots more deeply
into the communities where we live is part of a broad social movement
that can take on corporate power. "These roots already exist," says
Solomon. And because these roots feed the community in various ways, as
we learn to become agitators, we allow ourselves to be more extensively
nurtured by roots that already exist.

"Everyone cares about something," Solomon says. "Learn about it and
agitate about it. If you care about it and you want things to get
better, then you get with your friends and your neighbors, and together
you say we can get this done, yes we can turn this around. Si, se puede.
There are reasons to be engaged, because it's about the future. It's a
cliché, but it's true, that if the people will lead, the leaders will

Find Norman Solomon at

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