Outside Agitators

When students begin to defy established authority it often appears to besieged administrators that “someone must be behind this,” the implication being that young people are incapable of thinking or acting on their own. — Howard Zinn

University presidents are using “outside agitators” as their rationale for calling the police against student encampments.

“Outside agitators” is a trope used throughout history in response to slave resistance, Reconstruction, the labor movement, the anti-apartheid movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and more to dismiss and repress the legitimate agency, intellect, and concerns of local people. It is a form of McCarthyism.

Learn More

Unmasking the “Outside Agitator” by University of Texas-Austin professor Peniel Joseph, WBUR, 2020

The “outside agitator” trope, asked and answered by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl about Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Medium, 2020

The trope of “outside agitators” at protests, explained: Howard Law professor Justin Hansford breaks down how the term has been used to delegitimize protests across the country by Li Zhouli, Vox, 2020

Interview with SNCC veteran Chuck McDew, CRMvet website, 1988

We Need “Outside Agitators” by Astra Taylor and Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Jacobin, 2024

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