Thursday, October 27, 2005

get up stand up

Just a word on the death of Rosa Parks.

The popular version of her story makes out that she was just a quiet citizen who got tired of being moved on the bus. This is not true. She was a civil rights activist. She was on the bus that day with two friends, both of whom moved when asked. Rosa was told to move or the cops would be called. Her arrest was a deliberate stand.

Nowadays the cause she fought for is so self-evidently right that even the likes of Bush have to pay lip service to her. Let that be a lesson to those who would conflate legality with morality, and a spur to action to those of us who recognise legal immoralities.

I remember after my first arrest being sat in the cell thinking, 'this is it? All those times I held back from what was right, I did so only because I was scared of this? Of sitting in a room reading a book?'

And let us also be clear that the veneration of the likes of Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela or whoever is often the cause of a distorted and disempowering picture. They could only be figureheads because they had the backing.

As Noam Chomsky said in the documentary Manufacturing Consent

In history books there’s a couple of leaders, George Washington or Martin Luther King or whatever. I don’t want to say that those people are not important, Martin Luther King was certainly important, but he was not the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King can appear in the history books cos lots of people whose names you will never know and whose names are all forgotten were working down in the South.

When you have active activists, and people concerned, and people devoting themselves and dedicating themselves to social change then people like me can appear, and we can appear to be prominent but that’s only because somebody else is doing the work.

My work, whether it’s giving hundreds of talks a year or spending twenty hours a week writing letters or writing books is not directed to intellectuals and politicians. It’s directed to what are called ordinary people. And what I expect from them is in fact exactly what they are; that they should try to understand the world and act in accordance with their decent impulses, and that they should try to improve the world. And many people are willing to do that.

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