"Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man."
- Tom Paine
"We're the renegades, we're the people
With our own philosophies
We change the course of history
Everyday people like you and me"
- Afrika Bambaataa
In his song "The Renegades of Funk", Afrika Bambaataa name drops Tom Paine along side other figures in history, including Chief Sitting Bull, Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcom X. On the surface, this list of people seems like it might appear on a Sesame Street segment of "One of These Things is Not Like the Other", but there is a very specific reason he is included. It is true that Tom Paine is included among the ranks of the "founding fathers", the stuffiest of stuffy white men in American History. It is also true that modern day American public has become increasingly disillusioned with the once illustrious image of the founding fathers. They've gone from a group of heroes that fought tooth and nail to form this nation to a group of slave owning aristocrats who didn't want to pay their taxes. Some of these stereotypes are deserved, some are not. Tom Paine, despite his association with these pigeonholes, stands out as a true renegade, well deserving of a place in Bambaataa's list, immortalized in song.
Who was Paine, and why was he different? Perhaps the first and most important distinction was his marked distance from the nobility. Paine was born into a fairly working class family, which in 18th Century England pretty much meant he was poor. This is an important distinction for Paine, life didn't really give him anything, everything Paine is, is self made. This lends him an air of credibility when he goes on to talk about radically changing the government. These are words that come not from someone who's in the ivory tower looking down, but from someone who has lived the rough times, and knows from firsthand experience how miserable the system can get. Self made also means self schooled, Tom attended school as early as 7 years old, when education was not mandatory for children. This means that Tom was of the unwashed masses, very much aware of the askew cogs in the system, and made a point to educate himself in order to really articulate these thoughts to others. But how was a man with such radical ideals supposed to flourish in an environment such as this? Paine really found his voice during the precursors to the American revolution. I think a part of his saw the changes about to take place, and wanted to make sure he was on the right side when it all went down. Not only did his intensely eloquent ideology help form the new American government as it took shape, but he was also among the first abolitionist writers' knowing full well way before the fact that slavery in America couldn't possibly have a happy ending.
It is for all these reasons why Thomas Paine is more than just your average American hero, and it is for these very reasons that his place in Bambaataa's song is well secure.