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Kate Appel Eckert: Let’s celebrate the hot-blooded, radical, progressive history of Kansas (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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“When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas,” said William Allen White, Kansas’s most famous resident (barring Paul Rudd and Superman).

Some may roll their eyes at this thought, that Kansas, a state known for being flat and boring and conservative, has been a trailblazer of the country, a hotbed of radical populism. But it’s true: Kansas has historically led the country in political and social insurgency. From the abolition of slavery to the push for prohibition, my beloved Sunflower State is where the will of the people reigns supreme.

If you weren’t privy to this fact, you are not alone.

I am sure the average Kansan wouldn’t know this either. In fact, if you grew up in Kansas, there is no doubt you, like me, took a field trip to the Capitol building, where stunning murals of the Kansas countryside were broken up by images of the occasional violent fanatic or two, eliciting more than a few eyebrow raises from your third-grade class.

I, too, could not understand why my sweet, peaceful Kansas would choose to be represented by a zealot like John Brown, wielding a musket and a bible But that is, of course, because Kansas is not a peaceful place. When Kansans adopted the motto Ad Astra Per Aspera (to the stars through difficulty), by God, we meant it.

From the very beginning, Kansas has been a place where radically different ideas and their advocates duke it out.

Kansas entered the Union as a free state after a violent conflict over slavery, known as Bleeding Kansas, putting our dear friend John Brown on the map and serving as a “tragic prelude” of sorts to the imminent Civil War. It would later become host of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which paved the way for the end of segregation.

Kansas spearheaded the suffrage movement at the state level, became a safe haven for socialist thinkers, and was the very first state to outlaw alcohol during the prohibition. And in recent years, Kansas was the first state to protect abortion rights after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Kansas is consistently at the heart of every single revolution in America.

And I have every intent on continuing this tradition.

When I am confused about my identity, I find my Kansas heritage anchors me. To be a Kansan is to be a radical; to push for progress; to be a forward-thinker. To be a Kansan is also to be empathetic; to care for your neighbors; to stand up for those who are suffering.

The past five generations of my family have stood on the very same dirt, looked up at the very same sky, breathed the very same air, and decided to change the world for the better. I come from the place pioneers and visionaries seek out. The winds of change whip through me like a Kansas tornado. I am a force of nature.

If ever I doubt what I am capable of, I remember the moment I realized who I was and where I come from: I am a Kansan.

Changing the world is in my blood.

Kate Appel Eckert is a senior at Seaman High School in Topeka where she participates in debate, tennis, and band. She plans on attending KU in the fall to study economics on the pre-law track.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Kate Appel Eckert: Let’s celebrate the hot-blooded, radical, progressive history of Kansas (Column)

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”Kansas is consistently at the heart of every single revolution in America. And I have every intent on continuing this tradition,” Kate Appel Eckert writes in this Kansas Reflector column.

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