The Price of Being a Radical, 1930

Courtesy of Tom Giessel

From the January, 1930 edition of The Farmers Union Herald

Often we hear expressions of fear concerning the work of someone whom the world deems a radical.

Very little use to worry. The greater percent of the human race do not want to think. The only thinking they do is when compelled to by the turbulence of some radical. The ripple soon passes from the surface and the majority settle back. We are especially fortunate in that we have a few who, when someone with independence enough to think for themselves steps out of the beaten track, will follow.

Very little progress would we make if we were not fortunate enough to have these radicals to take conventionalities in hand and shake the dust from them and expose their rotten vanities.

Whenever a person comes forth with stability, courage, and character enough to voice a new principle, the world looks aghast. A hue and cry is put forth that we are degenerating. We are becoming impious and sacrilegious. The change may appear at first to be retrogression, but it is only the step backward for the long running-jump ahead.

The triumph of the new truth which declared that the sun is our central orb, that the earth and the planets are a family of worlds, must be attributed to Galileo. He was a radical. What price did he pay? He was assailed from all sides with malice, ignorance, and ridicule.

He was imprisoned in a cell in the Inquisition. He was compelled to go down on his knees and renounce his teachings. Upon rising, he is said to have uttered in an undertone, “The sun moves, for all that.”

It is easy enough to trail along with the noted. It takes energy, and nobility of purpose to oppose. The battle of the radical, shaking up conventionalities has lasted through centuries in the past, so it will last through other centuries in the future. These radicals, breakers of idols, have done more for the world’s progress than all the hereditary or self-appointed rulers that have ever lived on the earth.

We, in our own time have never given full credit to our greatest benefactors.

Thomas Paine was belittled, even called “a filthy little atheist”. He was neither an atheist, agnos, nor infidel. He attacked theology, but was a firm believer in God. He said, “the world is my country; to do good is my religion.”

In January, 1776 when Paine published his first political argument, “Common Sense”, it fell on the divided, undecided colonist like a bomb. But it, and it alone was given full credit by Washington, Jefferson, and Adams for having decided the issue. If any on person is entitled to credit for the Declaration of Independence, it is Thomas Paine. He it was who had courage and nerve to mold public opinion to that end.

When Washington’s army had dwindled from eighteen thousand to a scant one thousand men, it was Thomas Paine who seized a drum and using the head for a desk, with his pen dripping fire, wrote “The Crisis”. All that winter Washington ordered Paine’s Crisis and other papers to be read at the head of each regiment.

As a nation we owe more to Thomas Paine than to any other human being. Every man who reads history knows we could not have won without Washington, and Washington could not have won without an organized public opinion back of him, and Paine is the one who organized it.

He, like other rebels and “breakers of idols,” have their place–they have made men think and have spurred them to action. He too, paid the price.

People who are fearful of new ideas are always advocating suppression of the radical. Whenever we suppress, it is simply because the views expressed are not in accord with the views of the majority.

Look back to war times. The majority, we say, were in favor of war. Were they? (We had just elected Woodrow Wilson President because, “he kept us out of war”.) Well, the dictating power was in favor of war. Numerous men and women were tried, convicted and imprisoned because they dared speak or write against war. Did they speak or write anything more bitter, more opposing, more radical than the pacifist writes today? No–but then they were opposing–were Radicals. Now the pacifist writes the same propaganda. Now, it is safe and sane, because the majority are talking peace and the Peace Pacts must be advocated.

In the presidential campaign of 1896 W. J. Bryan was one of those ranting radicals. Where will we find a more strenuous speech than his “Cross of Gold”? The conservatives said that if Bryan’s principles were put in force in the United States, the nation was doomed. But lo, before a decade had passed over our heads, we had accepted all of those direful principles except the ratio of sixteen to one.

In Los Angeles Max Rosenstein has been denied his diploma from high school because he is a communist. Think of it! In the twentieth century, asking a student concerning his politics or religion, when attending a public school, supported by public tax. As well as whether his grandparents ate light or dark bread, or whether his mother does the family wash or sends it to the laundry.

If communist ideas are wrong, if they are base and vile, worry not. Give all the communist students diplomas, for by so doing you have given them an opportunity to learn other theories by attending high school. If wrong, their theories will die. Trying to oppress will only antagonize and make the communist spirit rise higher and spread farther. If their theories and dogmas are bad, they need not be feared. They will burn by their own fuel, die their own death, and bury themselves in an ignominious grave.

For the time being it is a sin and a crime to have certain ideas. Tomorrow they may be in popular favor. The crime of our age has more than once become the glory of the ages which followed.

Thirty-five years ago what is organized labor today were the radicals. Now they are organized. Now farmers are radicals because they are organizing.

Coming home from the Convention at Bismarck, I heard an elevator man tell a farmer that wheat might just as well keep on going down in price because the farmers are never satisfied anyway. Well, being a mere woman, I didn’t offer any information, but I think he may soon learn, when we are going to be satisfied.

As a class we are showing our radical views, and we are blessed with enough so called radical leaders to put the program across. We are in disfavor today, asking too much, but when the equilibrium has been reached, and we are given a market that isn’t less than cost, our preposterous ideas accepted, someone else will have to be the goat. We will cease to be radical.

Often times the theories which may benefit the future, unsettle the present. There must be an upheaval to liberate and free the minds; get them out of their groove so they may expand.

Look not for praise and glory for any ideas and principles put forth unless you are walking closely, very closely with the crowd. Rather listen for a wail of horror and prepare to be cast out with the cry of Radical hurled at you.

Where in the history of the world do you find the gratitude of a people given to their great reformers while those radicals are living? Men and women who have taught the world to think have gone down to defeat, as far as they knew of the world accepting their views. The monuments and statues we raise after they are dead.

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