Most nights I fall asleep listening to the voice of Ira Glass. Exhaustion kicks in pretty quickly so it normally takes me about a week to get through an episode of This American Life.
This week I was listening to a rerun titled Reruns. Act Three – Sarah Vowell’s intriguing piece on the insulting practice of using Civil Rights leaders, primarily Rosa Parks, as a reference for their insignificant and sometimes anti-civil rights activities. She has a slew of humorous occasions where people have compared themselves and their protests to the actions the great Rosa Parks. The mayor of Friendship Heights, Maryland comparing allowing smoking outside to forcing Rosa to sit in the back of the bus. A dairy farmer protesting dairy prices, a street performer not being allowed to perform on a certain street, illegal lap dances and even Ted Nugent all being compared to one of history’s greatest leaders and activists. Sarah’s intelligent and dry wit kept me laughing through the thought provoking piece calling out the audacity of these people to compare their strifes to the pain and the bravery displayed during the Civil Rights movement.
AND this got me thinking. Are we trying to say our actions or our struggles are comprable to hers or are we saying that she is a symbol of challenging the status quo. Is there a way that we can utilize her image to inspire ourselves to fight for change (even if it’s as insignificant as outlawing lap dances, if that’s what we’re passionate about) without attempting to diminish her actions or over-inflate ours. We need heros, we need inspiration, we need to remember that people did not just tolerate the status quo but fought for what they believed in. In citing Rosa Parks are we really trying to say I want to feel connected to others and I want an example of it being ok to shake things up.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely with Sarah’s well spoken arguments. Using the name of someone who suffered so greatly and bravely incited an entire movement which brought about the most significant social change in modern times, to rally people behind insubstantial causes, even causes that would make Rosa herself protest, is insulting and embarrassing. I just wonder if there’s a way to use these great heros to continue to bring us together around the idea of challenging what’s there without insulting their accomplishments.