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Freedom summer: Reviving Thomas Paine

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These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. —from The American Crisis by Thomas Paine

On a trip to England that I took last winter with my wife, we planned a stop in East Sussex, a county on the south coast, an hour and a half's drive from London. Several times during our trip around the country, people told us that while in Sussex, we needed to visit Thomas Paine's home in the town of Lewes.

My wife and I made it there, and we tippled in a pub located a few doors from Paine's old residence. The pub was called the Rights of Man, named for a treatise Paine wrote in support of the French Revolution. The English know their radicals, and it was both charming and discomfiting that they seemed to be on more intimate terms with a figure like Paine—an Englishman who backed the American Revolution, whose writings Gen. Washington read aloud to bolster the resolve of his battered troops—than we Americans.

But on this, the week of our nation's 237th birthday, Paine's writings seem pertinent. Not only did he fire the spirits of young revolutionists in America as well as France, he argued for the rights of people to shape their own destinies, chart the course of their common laws and throw off burdensome, antiquated and unjust laws. Even today, his words can seem radical in a country that reveres its 18th-century Constitution to the point that it allows a curiously worded, antiquated clause to determine 21st-century firearms policy.

Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave, is, the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. —from Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

This week's cover, and the news stories that follow, are inspired by the confluence of several developments with our annual Independence Day celebrations. Around the world, there is an upsurge in subversive actions. They have uniquely local motivations and stakes: In Brazil, protests occurred against the ruinously expensive World Cup, unthinkable in the land of the beautiful game, while in Egypt, massive demonstrations against the current Muslim Brotherhood leadership could lead to a military takeover.

While mass protests have the potential to go awry, at least they offer safety in numbers, something that another would-be revolutionary, the fugitive NSA leaker currently taking refuge in the Moscow airport, sorely lacks as he's cornered by the minions of America's surveillance state.

In Raleigh, the peaceful, organized Moral Monday protests against an obtuse, punitive, unimaginative and knuckle-dragging state Legislature may seem small potatoes by comparison, but in a state unaccustomed to such activism, it's new, noteworthy and increasingly attracting the attention of the national and international media. INDY Week's John Tucker and Justin Cook attended this week's rally in Raleigh; see "Voting rights and unemployment benefits spur more than 1,000 demonstrators at Moral Monday."

Public outrage is surging in other American statehouses, too. In "Texas and N.C. fight against oppression," Bob Geary considers how the outpouring of support for Texas legislator Wendy Davis, paired with the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina, portends what he calls a "New Revolution of the American South."

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court let loose with a pair of thunderclaps in the form of decisions on gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act. After the cheering died down, many realized that, on balance, the results may be negative for North Carolina. Will Huntsberry reports from a meeting of gay marriage activists and tells us what the DOMA decision means for the future of gay marriage in North Carolina (see "Goodbye DOMA: America is changing, and dragging North Carolina with it"). Meanwhile, Billy Ball talks with several old civil rights warriors about the disheartening prospect of re-fighting battles that were won at a dear price a half-century ago (see "In N.C., 40 counties are no longer governed by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act").

Happy Independence Day, everyone. Stay safe around the fireworks, and spare a thought for the radical Englishman whose words inspired two revolutions.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. —from The American Crisis by Thomas Paine

Correction: Due to a copy editing error, the first quote was misattributed; it is from The American Crisis (not Rights of Man).

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