The Fourth of July is a Celebration of Agitation

Are you an agitator? You know, one of those people who won't leave
well enough alone, who's always questioning authority and trying to
stir things up.

If so, the Powers That Be detest you -- you ... you ... "agitator!"
They spit the term out as a pejorative to brand anyone who dares to
challenge the established order. "Oh," they scoff, "our people didn't
mind living next to that toxic waste dump until those environmental got them upset." Corporate chieftains routinely wail that "our workers were perfectly happy until those union agitators started messing with their minds." agitators

In each case, the message is that America would be a fine country if
only we could get rid of those pesky troublemakers who get the hoi
polloi agitated about one thing or another.

Bovine excrement. Were it not for agitators, we wouldn't even have
an America. The Fourth of July would be just another hot day, we'd be
singing "God Save the Queen," and our government officials would be
wearing white-powdered wigs.

Agitators created America, and it's their feisty spirit and outright
rebelliousness that we celebrate on our national holiday. I don't
merely refer to the Founders, either. Thomas Jefferson, George
Washington, James Madison, Ben Franklin and the rest certainly were
derring-do agitators when they wrote the Declaration of Independence,
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, creating the framework for a
democratic republic. But they didn't actually create much democracy. In
the first presidential election, only 4 percent of the people were even
eligible to vote. No women allowed, no African Americans, no American
Indians and no one who was landless.

So, on the Fourth, it's neither the documents of democracy that we
celebrate nor the authors of the documents. Rather, it's the
intervening two-plus centuries of ordinary American agitators who have
struggled mightily against formidable odds to democratize those

America's great rebellion didn't end with the British surrender at Yorktown.

It was only getting started -- and the rebellion has moved through such
great forces of agitation as the abolitionists and suffragists,
Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, the Populists and the Wobblies,
Fighting Bob La Follette and Huey Long, the Square Deal and New Deal,
Mother Jones and Woodie Guthrie, Rachel Carson and Ralph Nader, Martin
Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez -- and on into today's continuing fight
for economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all.

Without agitators battling in politics, on the job, in the
marketplace, for the environment, on Wall Street, in education, for
civil liberties and rights, and all across our society, democratic
progress doesn't just stall, it falls back.

The Powers That Be -- especially America's overarching corporate and
political forces (often the same) -- give lip service to democracy, but
tend toward plutocracy, autocracy and kleptocracy. They prefer (and
often demand) that We the People be passive consumers of their economic
and political policies. Don't rock the boat, stay in your place, go
along to get along -- be quiet, they urge.

Be quiet? Holy Thomas Paine! How could freedom-loving, democratic
citizens shrink into quietude, especially when the Powers That Be feel
so entitled to run roughshod over us? Even a dead fish can go with the
flow. We've got to be livelier than that.

July Fourth is a time to enjoy fireworks, flags, hotdogs, ballgames
and such -- but it's also a time to remember who we are: agitators!

It's not easy to stand against powerful interests. Sometimes it's
lonely, and you get to feeling like the guy B.B. King sings about: "No
one likes you but your momma, and she might be jiving you, too." It's
not easy, but having those who dare to stand up is essential if our
country is ever to achieve our ideals of fairness, justice and
opportunity for all.

And when the establishment derisively assails you as an agitator,
remember this: The agitator is the center post in the washing machine
that gets the dirt out.

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