I was sitting at my computer when a friend emailed the news that Rosa Parks had passed. When I reacted, my 10-year-old son Malik asked if something was wrong?
After explaining the reason for my reaction, he asked: “You mean the lady who wouldn’t give up her seat?” At his young age, he may have captured the life of Rosa Parks with a uncomplicated rhetorical question.
Rosa Parks was the midwife who delivered the Civil Rights Movement to the nation’s conscience. In doing do, her simple act of defiance became the springboard for civil disobedience that has been replicated around the world.
Opposition to the war in Vietnam, the women’s movement, anti-Apartheid efforts, as well as Tiananmen Square can trace their defiance back to that historic evening of Dec 1, 1955.
But to describe, as I have, Parks’ actions as “simple” is to view her actions through the luxury of hindsight and ignorance.
Her act of defiance was anything, but simple. She put her life in jeopardy. Beyond the Jim Crow laws, southern whites were not duty bound to affirm the humanity of any Negro.
The unsolved murders that remain from the 1950’s and 60’s in the Deep South bear witness to this dark chapter of American history.
By sitting down, Ms. Parks created an inverted order in that she stood up for American Democracy in ways that not even the President of the Untied States or Congress was prepared to do at that time.
Parks has understandably received commemorations befitting her national-treasure status. Her passing has sparked commentary of adoration from conservatives and liberals alike.
Since her death, this former recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom has perhaps received every commemoration from this country except the one that matters most---replication of her actions.
Imagine had the Democratic Party followed Ms. Parks’ lead these past four plus years? They would have spent more time asking tough questions, providing the country will a clear choice, rather than trying to appear “Bush Lite.” They would have focused more on demonstrating their patriotism than pontificating about it by matching slogans with the opposition party.
No doubt they would have spent more time before the 2004 election strategizing about the best direction for the country rather than which candidate represents the best chance to win.
If Republicans had been inspired by Ms. Parks, would conservatism be as reckless and undisciplined as it currently stands? Would the deficit be as large? Would right-wing religious zealots have so much influence over the president’s judicial nomination process?
Suppose we the people took Ms. Parks’ action seriously? I doubt that a majority of the Americans would have allowed fear to overcome pragmatism.
Without the burden of fear, would we would have stood for the USA PATRIOT ACT, the bankruptcy legislation, tax cuts ad nauseam, runaway deficits, or a preemptive war complete with flawed intelligence?
By removing fear as our primary motivator we would not have needed the residue of Hurricane Katrina to realize that we are as vulnerable as we were on 9/11. Moreover we would not have waited to experience presidential buyers remorse, as indicated in the latest CNN poll, which was warranted prior to the 2004 election.
To have followed in Ms. Parks’ footsteps is to live with the possibility of giving something up. Ms. Parks’ gallant actions cost her and her husband employment in Montgomery Alabama, causing them to migrate to Detroit.
This country has required sacrifice from two groups: the poor and members of the armed forces and their families. The only thing that elected officials in both parties, with few exceptions, have sacrificed is courage.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. recalls in his book Stride Toward Freedom, to understand Ms. Parks’ actions is to realize “that eventually the cup of endurance runs over and human personality cries out: ‘I can’t take it any longer.’”
The moment that we reach that threshold is when begin to follow the path blazed by “the lady who wouldn’t give up her seat.”