Quotable: Paul Rogat Loeb on Rosa Parks and the value of persistence

“Our culture’s misreading of the Rosa Parks story speaks to a more general collective amnesia, where we forget the examples that might most inspire our courage, hope, and conscience. Of the abolitionist and civil rights movements, we at best recall a few key leaders — and often misread their actual stories. We know even less about the turn-of-the-century populists who challenged entrenched economic interests and fought for a ‘cooperative commonwealth.’ How many of us recall how the union movements ended 80-hour work weeks at near-starvation wages, or helped pass pivotal legislation like Social Security? How did the women’s suffrage movement spread to hundreds of communities, and gather enough strength to prevail?

“As memories of these events disappear, we lose the knowledge of mechanisms that grassroots social movements have used successfully in the past to shift public sentiment and challenge entrenched institutional power. Equally lost are the means by which their participants managed to keep on and eventually prevail in circumstances at least as harsh as those we face today.

“In the prevailing myth, Parks decides to act almost on a whim, in isolation. She’s a virgin to politics, a holy innocent. The lesson seems to be that if any of us suddenly got the urge to do something equally heroic, that would be great. Of course most of us don’t, so we wait our entire lives to find the ideal moment.”

–Paul Rogat Loeb, at Truthout

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