There’s little to say about Rosa Parks’s courage and the significance of her life that hasn’t already been said. Jeanne d’Arc is particularly eloquent.
Across the Blogosphere, left and right, bloggers are paying tribute to Mrs. Parks, who died last night at the age of 92.
Although mostly heartfelt, the praise from some rightie bloggers underscores what to me is the most amazing attribute of rightiness, which is the inability to apply lessons of history to the present. Although the faces and causes change, the American Right still reflexively smacks down anyone who dares to take a stand for the dignity of the individual or to speak a truth the Right doesn’t want to hear. Like Rosa Parks.
The liberal struggle for equality and individual rights versus the conservative struggle to keep power and privilege in the hands of a select few is the most persistent theme in American political history. Although slavery was the mother of all inqualities, abolition didn’t stop the struggle. New movements gain attention–labor, women’s suffrage, civil rights, women’s rights, native American rights, gay rights. Time and again, a segment of American citizenry rises up and declares it will sit in the front of the bus with The Man. And then we go through the same old dance–the Right lashes back, smears the instigators, swears that if X happens it will be the end of civilization as we know it, attempts to use law to hold back the liberal tide, fails, and then gradually loses popular support as people figure out the change wasn’t so bad after all. And two or three generations later, the Right declares it was for X all along.
And they cannot learn. Earlier this year I had a conservation with a rightie about “activist judges.” I mentioned Brown v. Board of Education, and the rightie lashed back in irritation — how come you lefties always bring up Brown? We bring it up because it exemplifies the same old learning curve we keep having to repeat. In fact, I believe the Right’s bugaboo about “activist judges” originated with the Brown decision. Later would come other decisions, such as Engel v. Vitale and Roe v. Wade, always followed by the same rhetoric. X is a threat to the American way of life. X takes rights (i.e., privileges) away from people. X is a usurpation by the federal government of states’ rights. And X will lead to moral depravity (e.g., miscegenation after Brown, godlessness after Engel, rampant promiscuity and a “culture of death” after Roe).
Same old, same old. When the privileged few are prevented from using state and local government as agents of oppression–whether oppression of racial minorities, religious minorities, women, or any other not-privileged group–they throw collective temper tantrums and whine that government is taking away their rights. And anyone who stands up for equal treatment under the law had better have a thick skin, because the Right will attack.
And the learning comes slow. After 40 years, there are still pockets of resistance to the Montgomery bus boycott. I found some on the blogosphere today. This blogger calls Parks a “pawn” of the NAACP, for example. (Fact is, Parks was a long-time NAACP worker who knew very well what she was doing when she sat on that bus; she was nobody’s “pawn.”) Although I was a toddler when the Brown decision was handed down, the resulting fight over school desegregation was still white-hot when I was high school. An all-white high school, btw. And the standoffs on school prayer and abortion seem not to have budged much after all these years.
This blogger writes, “The civil rights leaders of today pale in comparison to Parks and her compatriots.” That’s what they always say. In the 1950s, Parks and Martin Luther King were vilified soundly by the Right. As were Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass in their day.
Tweak the racial epithets, and the invective hurled at Rosa Parks in 1955 becomes the same invective hurled at Cindy Sheehan today.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.