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We Can’t All Be “Radicals,” but We Should All Support Them

This isn’t a call for you to become radical. This is a reminder: radicals are doing the work of freeing you, even if you don’t realize.

A Chicago activist sits atop a ladder to shut down the notorious Chicago Police Department "black site" of Homan Square on July 20, 2016, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Sarah Ji)

“Violence is never the answer” is a sentiment I often hear parroted by people who celebrate the 4th of July in America, a holiday commemorating a violent and deadly rebellion. People have a habit of glorifying violence in history, while condemning violence in modern times.

I’ve seen people who claim to love Malcolm X denounce modern day revolutionaries who embody the same principals that made X who he was. It seems that there are many people who only like the idea of revolution if they’re reading about it in a history book.

History has shown us that, when dealing with oppressive systems, a violent rebellion is the most efficient way to gain freedom. In the words of Assata Shakur, “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” Whether you’re looking at the Haitian Revolution or the Boston Tea Party, substantive change is always attained when people who are considered “radical” decide to fight back. True revolution requires there to be people willing to attain their freedom by any means necessary.

In the wake of the Korryn Gaines incident, in which a black woman was shot by the police in her home over traffic tickets, this conversation has become more necessary than ever. I’ve seen people who are the beneficiaries of the work of radicals during the 60s now actively disrespecting the work of radicals today. I’ve seen people go from “Assata taught me” to “she should have just complied” in a matter of days.

We need to understand that during the time the Black Panther Party was patrolling the streets there were people then too who thought it wasn’t necessary. Fast forward to today, and those same people reap the rewards of the Panthers’ labor.

There are no successful revolutions in history without radicals taking the movement to the next level. Nat Turner did not politely request that he be freed. Harriet Tubman did not barter with slave owners to free black people. No, history’s heroes went against systems created to oppress them. They stopped respecting the boundaries placed by their oppressors and sought liberation by their own means.

We are not dealing with an entity that can be reasoned with through morality alone. Radical resistance is necessary. And those willing to be radicals know that they will likely not live to see the fruits of their labor. They put their lives on the line for your future, and for the future of your children.

During his time, Martin Luther King Jr. was considered a radical. He actively went against the law to expose the injustice of white America. Even in his completely non-violent approach, he was a radical extremist. And as much as white people today applaud his peacefulness, they love to forget that they still killed him anyway.

Remember that while MLK was alive, many people of all races were completely against him and his radical ways, and those same people today all say they supported him. You are at a crucial point in history where you can choose to be the person who supports the radicals while they are still alive, or you can be the person in 50 years lying to your grandchildren about how you loved what Korryn Gaines stood for, even though today you just posted a dissertation explaining why she deserved to die.

This is not a call for anyone to become the next radical. Rather, this is a reminder that the next radical is doing the work necessary to free you, even if you don’t realize it at the moment. If you can’t join them in their action or voice support, then, at the very least, you should be silent.

You should not use your voice or your words to demean their efforts. Whether you believe that politics are a better conduit for liberation, or whether you think an economic revolution would be best, one thing we should all agree on in this fight is that we’re on the same side. So, to paraphrase a famous refrain, if you don’t have anything revolutionary to say, don’t say anything at all.

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