A few words in support of Lauren Valle and professional agitators everywhere

by James Brady

October 26, 2010

We applaud Lauren for her courage, and for taking a stand on an issue she believes in, and exercising her right to speech.

If you’d like to thank Lauren, click here.

This morning the first thing I saw was a TV news clip of my friend Lauren Valle getting kicked in the head by one of Rand Paul’s volunteers while another beefy fellow held her down.  

Lauren is a 23-year-old woman who is about 5’5” and her assailants were pretty big guys.  The whole thing was pretty brutal and frightening but Lauren kept her calm throughout the ordeal and refused to meet violence with violence.  She did not call the men names and she did not lash out in anger.  How many of us would be able to keep calm and collected in a situation like that?  How many folks do you know who could take being held down and kicked in the head without freaking out?  How many people could accept that punishment in the service of a bigger goal?  Well, as it turns out there are quite a few folks like that out there in the world.  They are called peaceful protestors and they are in every state, county, and country you can think of.  

Rush Limbaugh was earning his money today and was on the air early bad mouthing Lauren Valle and throwing his support behind her aggressors.  His rationale is that Lauren Valle is a “professional agitator.”  The evidence for this is that Lauren has an arrest record and has participated in protests in Louisiana, New York, and Beijing, China.  Clearly then, she deserves to be beaten.   She asked for it by standing up where people would prefer that she sit down.  She brought it on herself by speaking up in a place where her beliefs are unpopular.  What else did she expect would happen?  This was the gist of Mr. Limbaugh’s commentary as well as some of the comments I read on the many articles that have been printed about this event.  

I find this interesting as an avenue of attack as I am at something of a loss to think of a single social advance almost ever in world history that happened without someone standing up and speaking out when others told them to shut up and sit down.  It’s called agitating and from Women’s Sufferage to the Civil Rights Movement to ending child labor it’s how things get done.  Rosa Parks was a “professional agitator.”  She went to nonviolence workshops and she studied campaigning strategies and tactics.  She understood how to use media to dramatize and amplify an issue and she knew the history of other peaceful protest movements long before she sat down on the bus and refused to move.  To paraphrase James Lawson, who led the Nashville Woolworth’s sit-ins, “Succesful social movements do not happen spontaeously, they have to happen systematically.”  

What is a “professional agitator”?  In Lauren Valle’s case it is someone who cares about pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, oppression of Tibetan people, big banks funding strip mining, and political corruption.  It’s someone who volunteers for progressive organizations to try to bring some sanity to this voracious world.  It’s a young woman who is still idealistic and optimistic enough to believe that change is possible and who’s willing to take a kick to the head for following her conscience.

There are people in this country who find that scary.  There are people who benefit from keeping folks scared and desperate and angry and people like Lauren scare them a lot because they won’t sit down and shut up and accept business as usual. One of Gandhi’s Tenets of Nonviolence was that to practice it one had to be willing to accept suffering.  He wasn’t keen on suffering, you understand, he just understood that it was sometimes necessary in the course of making things better. The willingness to speak out when we are afraid and outnumbered is our greatest strength.  

Thanks, Lauren, for reminding me. 

James Brady conducts non-violent direct action workshops for Greenpeace.

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