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America should celebrate radicals, not condemn them

Apr 25, 2023

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The expulsion of Black Tennessee state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson was meant to be a punishment for bringing “dishonor” to the state Capitol. Instead, it made political superstars out of the two men, who were voted out by the GOP-led legislature on April 6 for taking part in a gun control protest on the House floor. The lawmakers were quickly reinstated, and even met with President Biden.

Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette says Jones and Pearson should be celebrated for getting into some “good trouble.” He says we should celebrate the radicals who push for change, not condemn them.

Let me put in a good word for the loudmouth. Let’s hear it for the shouter, the radical, the agitator, the instigator, the troublemaker. Can we give some love to the people with the picket signs and the bullhorns? I shouldn’t even have to make this point in a country whose story began when a bunch of troublemakers from the colonies snuck onto a boat on December 16, 1773, and dumped a bunch of English breakfast [tea] into Boston Harbor. In the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, can we show a little bit of respect for those brave souls who today raise their voices and take action to try and right a wrong? 


And no, I’m not talking about the MAGA minions who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, some of whom threatened to kill police officers with their own guns. That wasn’t an attempt to right a wrong. Everything that occurred that day was wrong. Still, to the larger point, nothing ever changes in this country without a push. Just look at U.S. history. No injustice would have been corrected, not in any century, without the pot stirrers. From Harriet Tubman and her railroad to Susan B. Anthony and the suffragists, to a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall standing up in the Supreme Court against segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education, to farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez in the peach orchards of Central California, to well, the list goes on and on without end. That makes sense, right?

For Americans, making noise and making trouble as a way of making progress, all that stuff is in our DNA. We’re an ornery and headstrong bunch that doesn’t like taking orders. Remember the mask hysteria during the COVID-19 pandemic? And we won’t be pushed around. When someone tries, we holler, we shout, we fight back. And yet at the same time, despite Americans’ national love affair with radicals, we still harbor a suspicion toward them. We fear them because of the commotion they cause. We resent them for rocking the boat. We want to steer clear of them and preserve the status quo. We would prefer they just keep quiet and leave well enough alone.

Let me put in a good word for the loudmouth. Let’s hear it for the shouter, the radical, the agitator, the instigator, the troublemaker. Can we give some love to the people with the picket signs and the bull horns? I shouldn’t even have to make this point in a country whose story began when a bunch of troublemakers from the colonies snuck onto a boat on December 16, 1973, and dumped a bunch of English breakfast [tea] into Boston Harbor. In the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, can we show a little bit of respect for those brave souls who today raise their voices and take action to try and right a wrong?
And no, I’m not talking about the MAGA minions who started the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, some of whom threatened to kill police officers with their own guns. That wasn’t an attempt to right a wrong. Everything that occurred that day was wrong. Still, to the larger point, nothing ever changes in this country without a push. Just look at U.S. history. No injustice would have been corrected, not in any century, without the pot stirrers. From Harriet Tubman and her railroad to Susan B. Anthony and the suffragists, to a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall standing up in the Supreme Court against segregated schools in Brown versus Board of Education, to farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez in the peach orchards of Central California, to well, the list goes on and on without end. That makes sense, right?
For Americans, making noise and making trouble as a way of making progress, all that stuff is in our DNA. We’re an ornery and headstrong bunch that doesn’t like taking orders. Remember the mask hysteria during the COVID-19 pandemic? And we won’t be pushed around. When someone tries, we holler, we shout, we fight back. And yet at the same time, despite Americans’ national love affair with radicals, we still harbor a suspicion toward them. We fear them because of the commotion they cause. We resent them for rocking the boat. We want to steer clear of them and preserve the status quo. We would prefer they just keep quiet and leave well enough alone.
We saw this phenomenon play out most recently in the state legislature in Tennessee, where boneheaded Republicans — I know these days, is there any other kind? — where boneheaded Republicans inadvertently made celebrities and heroes out of the Tennessee Three. The term refers to three Democratic legislators, Representative Justin Jones, Representative Justin Pearson, and Representative Gloria Johnson, who took to the floor of the legislature to call loudly for sensible gun reform. They were fired up over last month’s mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, where six people, including three children, were killed.
The Republicans who control that body were furious; not at the killings, but at the outbursts. And they responded by voting to expel Jones and Pearson, young black men, and not to expel Johnson, a 60-year-old white woman. Some on the right couldn’t even see how this was wrong. “God bless Tennessee Republicans who are standing up for the rule of law,” to a conservative commentator Todd Starnes. “They refuse to be bullied by foul-mouthed insurrectionists, they refuse to be intimidated by the professional racist agitators. Patriots one and all.” Hear that? Hear the codewords? Insurrectionists, agitators. Yeah, like that’s not the American Way.
Still, most thinking and reasonable people, including sane Republicans, could see the optics were horrible. And this happened in Tennessee, south of Mason Dixon? Yeah, that sounds about white. Now both Jones and Pearson have been reinstated in the legislature on an interim basis by city and county officials under state law. Both men will have to run in special elections in the coming months to regain their seats permanently, but they’re prepared to do that. Good deal. This story sure had a happy ending. All hail the agitators, praise the loud mouths, long live the radicals. Y’all are in the right place. God bless America.

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