A famous American who was once a slave and became a prominent Abolitionist and promoter of the arming of emancipated African-American slaves during that great war between the States known as our Civil War was named Frederick Douglass. When asked what he thought “Negro” African-Americans should do to find their way into the future he answered “agitate, agitate, agitate” or so the story goes. My first exposure to the word agitator as far as I can remember was not political, although I knew its political meaning at an early age. My first exposure to the word was in the context of the joined plastic or other blunt blades inside a lid-top washing machine that stirs the clothes as part of the cleaning process. So it was not really a negative association. Without an agitator our washing machine would not work and I certainly like our washing machine. Today the washing machine we have in this house is front loaded and tumbles the clothes in soapy water with a series of small shelf-like blades running along the horizontal walls of the barrel. Are these blades called agitators or not? I do not know.
Everyone has some moments of agitating who is active even a conservative Pope or British Monarch. The churning that makes butter, washes clothes and creates usable concrete has its political and social analog in every fully engaged public life. However, there is a question of balance and degree. Elements of work, direct confrontation, negotiation, study, crafting policy, collaboration and war can be mixed in various doses with the element of agitation. Even that list above does not exhaust the elements which must be part of the mix.
I do not think that I am very inclined to agitation as my principal political activity. However, I have agitated and will agitated again. In the South of the United States more than in most places people use the word agitation to describe their emotional state. To say “It got me agitated” or “I was agitated” is nearly synonymous with “I was angrily upset” most of the time. While I have marched carrying a banner into streets where cars were cruising into the parade ground and appeared ready to hit us all and I have brought food to demonstrators who were engaging in civil disobedience I am notably passive much of the time.
I think Obama’s mantra and battle cry of “Change!” in the presidential campaign was not only about agitation but it did include a focus on agitation. Obama and I are near one another in age and we both traveled a great deal apparently. We both went to law school. We both believe we have walked in some of the world’s rough spots and dark alleys. We both are writers. We both have had some attachment to basketball. We both have mothers who admit to having had children by more than one man. We both are US citizens. Nonetheless we are not really the products of very much commonality nor very much alike in the result of our experiences.
I believe that we must change as a society. I am not sure whether I will be part of much of that change or whether it will happen but I believe it really needs to happen. So in this blog and in other places I have begun a bit of occasional public agitation. Sometimes crying out is the best one can do. So I am crying out in the cyber-world for now. We do need change. If you read the other dozens of posts and pages on this blog you can get an idea of what changes I think we need.