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Start Agitating 

Norman Solomon on getting out there and doing something


"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 now."

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 follow."

Find Norman Solomon at

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