It was 50 years ago today that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus. A great act of courage and dignity, although, as I mentioned when she died, it wasn't the 'one tired woman' spur of the moment thing it's commonly portrayed as. It was just one of many premeditated acts of deliberate criminal defiance that were going on at the time.
Whilst Rosa is a genuine hero, there's always a danger of deifying such figures and so making their acts look inimicable to us.
When an environmental activist recently evoked Ghandi in conversation with a senior Greenpeace manager, the manager nervously giggled and said we couldn't aspire to that.
Why the hell not? Ghandi, Rosa Parks, the Spanish Anarchists of 36 and so many others get talked of in these awed terms which go beyond admiration for their actions and into hero-worship. By focusing on a few individuals we see the achievments of an entire movement as being the works of a few superhuman people. So we end up disempowered, believing we could never aspire to something that, in fact, ordinary people readily achieved.
All these idolised figures were just people doing what they could, just part of a much wider movement who we remember almost none of by name. Rosa was just one of many equally brave and uncompromising activists.
The power Rosa had is power we all have. In denying our power we cede it to those who would rule over us. Recognising that we have it is, in itself, an act of reclaiming it. With that recognition comes the attendant duty to use it. It makes us see the huge overlap between dreams and possibilities, and dares us to fight for what we dream of. That may unsettle us from comfort zones, but it also gives the only chance of the radical changes so desperately needed.
Rather than statues and deification of Rosa herself, seeing her as one of us and us as ones like her would be a more honest and befitting legacy.
'If we cannot see the possibility of greatness, how can we dream it?'
- Lee Strasberg