Wednesday was the fifty-fifth anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest. That event is a powerful reminder for me, not of the power of heroism, but of the power of day in and day out activism.
For most of us, Rosa’s life was one day long. Her real story is usually edited to fit our prevailing mythology— that it is great heroes, different from the rest of us, that effect real change through dramatic action. The truth is that real and lasting change is generally created through movements, and movements are made up of large numbers of people taking mostly small and undramatic actions.
When I heard Rosa’s story in school as a young student, no one mentioned that by the time she was arrested she had already been the secretary for the NAACP in Montgomery for twelve years by the time she was arrested. They didn’t mention that she had studied and trained in non-violent activism at the Highlander Center in Tennessee the summer before she was arrested.
Why does that matter? Because our instructions are different depending on which mythology we subscribe to. If activism works, then our instructions are to find a place to offer our gifts and get to work.
If it is dramatic heroic actions that really make a difference, though, then our instructions are… wait. Watch for the right moment, or for a real hero to show up (certainly we’re not heroes—they’re special, right?).
We cannot afford to wait, and those we lionize as heroes are flawed just like we are. It’s just that they have chosen to take action, sometimes noticed, sometimes not. Some days more courageous than others.
Thanks, Rosa, for your inspiration on Dec. 1, 1955, and every day before and after that date on which you did your part to make the world a better place.
Today’s Washington Post has an article on the rising need for food aid in the DC area. These are hard times for so many people. I’m grateful that the holiday season also has a tendency to open up our hearts and remind us of our interconnectedness.
Sunday evening I’ll be performing in Vienna, Virginia in a benefit for Our Daily Bread, one of the NGOs taking the lead on meeting that need for the Northern Virginia area, and interviewed in the article above. My old friend Christopher Williams will be playing an opening set, then I’ll get to share some old and new songs and some stories from my adventures in Australia and India. The proceeds will go to Our Daily Bread to feed people. If you are in that area and can come out, please do. If you’re not in that area and have friends who are, please send them a note and encourage them to come! I can pretty much guarantee you that it will be a lovely night, and it’s a donation for food to be shared with your neighbors in need. That’s what community looks like. The concert details are here.
On Saturday night I’ll also get to see some old friends and make and hear music with them. Tom Prasada-Rao and Terri Allard will be sharing the stage with me. We’ll each play a mini-set, then we’ll sit on stage together and swap songs for the second half of the show. Tickets must be reserved in advance, but there are still a few available. Details here.
On Sunday afternoon, before the concert, I’ll be speaking at the George Mason University from 1:30 to 3:30. It’s a free talk/workshop on citizen activism, the language of change, and hero myths. Info here.
Thanks for being interested in what I have to say and sing, and for the light you are shining in the world.
Be the change,