In these days of so many of us fretting over the future of the nation, let us take a pause to remember what ordinary citizens can do. Today, December 1, gives us 2 movements to celebrate.
On this day in in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like. This liberation work had been going on since the end of the Civil War, and before, during the times of slavery.
For generations, people had prepared for just such a moment that Rosa Parks gave them. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.
And in this way, a group of ordinary people made the arc of history bend towards justice. We should take heart from their example. Those Civil Rights workers faced much steeper odds than we face.
In these days of dead dictators (I'm thinking of Fidel Castro) and the distress that so many of us feel over the current state of politics--and the temptation to romanticize past decades--let us also remember that today is also World Aids Day, a somber day that recognizes that this plague has been one of the most destructive diseases in human history. Let us remember another band of activists who worked hard to make sure that humanity vanquished this disease--I'm thinking of ACT UP, but AIDS united many groups that might not have otherwise found a common cause.
Many people idolize Ronald Reagan, but I will never be able to forget how he refused to take leadership as this disease emerged. I am haunted by all the lives lost, and perhaps needlessly--if only . . . but history is so full of this needless loss.
It's easy to get bogged down in despair; we have survived earlier dark days, and we will survive any darkness coming our way too.
We can't know how long the struggle might be. Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all are similar to those medieval builders of cathedral: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.