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Agents Of Change

April 2024
1min read


Phil Patton’s list of agents of change was enlightening, but it consisted entirely of males of European descent. As most of your contributors to the article “How Have We Changed?” seem well aware, the biggest change in the last forty years has been the success of many groups who followed Gandhi’s advice to “make the injustice visible.” My own list of ten relatively unsung Americans who contributed to this change would include E. D. Nixon, the Montgomery NAACP leader who prepared the way for the success of the bus boycott; Ella Baker, whose organizing skills made the sit-in movement effective; Amzie Moore, who brought the Freedom Summer workers to Mississippi; Rachel Carson, the most effective early voice for environmental concerns; Dolores Huerta, who had kept the United Farm Workers a going concern; Ron Kovic, representative of the disabled Vietnam veterans who did more than anyone to turn public opinion against that war; Larry Kramer, who has eloquently rallied gays and straights in the fight against AIDS; Ronald Takaki, who teaches this country about its multicultural past; Maya Lin, whose sculptural monuments have helped America heal its divisions; and Maggie Kuhn, whose Gray Panthers fight for the rights of the only disadvantaged minority that all of us want to join.

There are hundreds of thousands of others to whom this country owes a great debt: the Freedom Riders, the peace marchers, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn who resisted police harassment in 1969, the Denver wheelchair group who blocked the buses in 1973. Plenty of physically sound heterosexual males of European descent were part of these movements too. I recall Michael Harrington speaking to a very small group about research that would become the basis of the War on Poverty, Herbert Hill telling of his planned effort to make television portray minorities as an integral part of American life, and Wade Blank mopping a floor and telling friends that this was what being an activist for the disabled was all about. These have been agents of real and basic change.

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