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 agitators got them upset.” Corporate chieftains routinely wail that “our workers were perfectly happy until those union agitators started messing with their minds.”
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 documents.
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