Monday, October 31, 2005

Rosa Parks 10/31/05


We all remember Rosa Parks and mourn her passing this past week.

A black woman sitting in a “whites-only” seat on a bus in the south was an act of courage, an act of defiance, an act of pioneering civil disobedience and an act of soothing sore feet.

Yes, Parks sat where she sat, not because she was rallying fellow southern African Americans to “The Cause,” but because her feet hurt and she needed to sit.

Not for a moment does this disparage what happened – the resulting boycott and the desegregation of public transportation.

But it also points out two things we don’t think about a lot when thinking about subjects like these.

Thing one: many acts of this kind are based on small events or small circumstances. They aren’t always the product of “leaders” or public figures. It’s often those of us in the American Peasantry – Black, White, Asian, whatever. Just ordinary people in ordinary situations who start a landslide by doing something that seems, at a distance, miniscule.

There are other examples throughout history. Einstein revolutionized physics by asking a tiny question, “what would I see if I were riding the front of a wave of light?” From this, evolved the complex “special theory of relativity,” on which much of modern science rests.

But not every small act that turns into a big act ends with a good result. Someone had to start negative political campaigns, which now have risen (or sunk) to a level so repulsive that it discourages voting.

But there’s a second “something” about Rosa Parks that needs some public airing, too.

An awful lot of the people who saluted her, memorialized her, grew sentimental about her in death, wouldn’t have given her the time of day in life.

Many of the people who said all those wonderful things about her would have been appalled had they been on that same bus.

They would have called her an agitator. They would have called her a lawbreaker and told her to vote for people who could change the laws. (As if Parks could have easily voted in those days, and as though her vote would have meant anything.)

How do we evaluate those people? We can say that that they have seen the light of day, that they have risen above the prejudices of their early years or of their ancestry.

Or we can say that they can now easily say nice things because the cause that formed around Parks and others of her ilk and era are so distant from modern experience that it has become safe.

Like Republicans quoting FDR or Democrats quoting Eisenhower, the events are so far back in time that they have become either covered with a protective layer of dust or have become coated with a protective layer of insulation.

And a third thing: What have Parks’ philosophical descendants done to further the pioneering she did?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you’re welcome to them.