Stateside With Rosalea Barker
Rosa Lee Parks: The Power of Many
As I was trawling the Net looking for non-gaga information about the 92-year-old woman who will lie in honor in the US
Capitol Rotunda today, I came across--then lost--a quote attributed to the lady herself regarding the state of affairs
in Alabama at the time she refused to give up her seat on the bus.
In it, she talks about how black folks were required to pay their fare to the driver at the front door, then get back
off the bus and go to the back door to board it. Sometimes the driver, having taken their fare, would drive off leaving
passengers to wait for the next bus--or walk, if that fare was the last money they had.
If you think of the bus as a symbol of the nation's economy, is anything different in the U.S. today? The numbers of
people--of all races--who are left standing at the kerb despite having paid their 40-hour, 50-hour, 60-hour way to the
prosperity promised at every flick of the dial and on every roadside billboard grows by the minute.
Can there ever be another Rosa Parks, asked Betty Cuniberti, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on October 27.
She speculated about whether someone like Cindy Sheehan might be that person, but decided:
"Those around her are not a humble, unknown 26-year-old minister but familiar divisive faces. In an information society
gone wild, Sheehan has ceased to be an ordinary person and grieving mother, and become one more personality that dozens
of highly compensated pundits can slam back and forth at each other like a tennis ball, partly for our amusement."
To which I say, "Exactly!" And so long as the focus is on one person, then the task of changing what is burdensome to
many will fail.
The emphasis on what a single individual can do surely misses the point of what happened in Montgomery, Alabama, fifty
years ago. Thousands of people boycotted the bus company, risking arrest for loitering as they stood on street corners
waiting for someone to give them a ride to the jobs they desperately needed not to lose. And thousands of drivers risked
arrest for picking up those folks.
The Rosa Lee Parks story is *not* about the power of one; it is about the power of many. But the President's homily will
no doubt focus carefully and intentionally on the individual as he leads tomorrow's self-congratulatory back-patting by
politicians--those very same politicians who repeatedly close the back door of the bus and drive off. If they even send
the buses to begin with.