The term “free radicals” means different things in different venues. Biochemically, free radicals refers to a group of atoms which have at least one unpaired electron and is therefore unstable and highly reactive. Nutritionally, free radicals refers to disease-causing byproducts from a number of causes including environmental factors, unhealthy food, smoking, radiation and a number of other sources. Politically, free radicals are individuals – and groups of individuals – who are bold enough and vocal enough to demand profound change to societal norms and institutions. In a democracy as well-established as America’s, what is considered radical today is vastly different from what was considered radical 10 or 20 years ago. Having said that, I humbly submit to you that free radicals are needed in the postmodern world – perhaps more than ever before.
On the surface, the term free radicals probably seems to be redundant or repetitive. After all, how can someone be radical if he or she is not already free? I contend that the true question is the inversion of that statement. How can anyone truly be free if he or she isn’t radical?
A free country requires free thinkers and free doers in order for measurable, societal progress to be achieved. I don’t need to know you personally in order to benefit from your activism. I don’t need to agree with you politically in order to acknowledge your value both as a citizen and as an agent of change.
Look at American history. Those visionary citizens who left England to travel here while dreaming of the formation of a new nation for a new citizenry with new rights and privileges therein were most certainly radicals. Those Americans – white, black, and otherwise – who saw the national shame of slavery and did something/anything to help bring about its demise were radicals to the third power. Americans – male and female – who toiled privately and publicly towards the women’s suffrage movement in the United States were clearly radicals. The same can be said about all the American people – famous and unknown – who fearlessly marched, non-violently protested, and organized during the civil rights movement. Radicals one and all.
Ponder these words of wisdom: “Who is the country? Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a temporary servant: it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then is the country? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it, they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country: In a republic it is the common voice of the people each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have your duty by yourself and by your country. Hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” Mark Twain said that.
Contemplate this missive of truth: “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world – ‘No, you move.’” Who said that? I’m glad you asked. The fictional Marvel Comics character Captain America said that once to Spider Man during a quiet moment of reflection between battles.
Free radicals are patriots. Freedom fighters. Visionaries. Free radicals can be Democratic, Republican, or Independent. Free radicals reside in both genders, every system of faith, and in all walks of life.
To be sure, free radicals are opposed by the relentless defenders of the status quo. The subscribers to retrogression and stagnation have always been there – to hinder those who fight the good fight. The non-believers will always be there to vilify change for reasons clear only to them.
Those of you who work out know this well. You’re sore after going to the gym because it’s necessary to first break down your muscles before you can build back them up. Change isn’t immediate. Change typically hurts, but it is almost always worth the pain and the sacrifice. As it is in your gym membership, so it is in your citizenship.
America needs those willing to speak up whenever they see wrongdoing, to advocate for those less fortunate, and to ensure that our Constitutional freedoms are extended to all our citizens. Free radicals act accordingly regardless of the cost. So, how unstable and highly reactive are you? I’m asking.