Tuesday, October 25, 2005


So Rosa's gone now too.

I suppose it's something we're going to have to get used to, as more and more of the Grownups shuffle off, leaving us Kids to run the store. Blankly we blink, puzzled, lost: Oh, you mean, the Grownups aren't always going to be here? You mean, we're in charge of all this now?

You mean to say, now that Rosa's gone, the next person to do something that unimaginably brave and true and life-changing is going to have to be, well, you know, me?

They died and left me in charge? Who the hell thought that was good idea?

A few years ago, when young Betty was about seven or so, she came home with a school assignment: She was to choose a character from US history, write a few lines about that person's contribution, get together a costume, and then do a little first-person speech in front of the class.

Betty chose Rosa Parks. A fine choice, we thought.

Wonder Woman and I helped her with her assignment, finding just the right paragraphs to plunder in the encyclopedia, assembling the costume, drilling her on her lines. I gave her public-speaking hints, about how to talk to the back of the room with head held high, to speak slowly and pause between sentences to let meaning sink in. She was, well, not terrified at the prospect of speaking in front of the class (today she aspires to be an actress, and has been in two plays), but apprehensive.

We practiced all evening, Betty in her little white hat and gloves, her best dress, handbag crooked in her elbow.

I am Rosa Parks. In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, African-American people had to ride in the back of the bus...

She dutifully held her head unnaturally high and p-r-o-j-e-c-t-e-d to the back wall of our bedroom as she practiced, butterflies in her stomach. Watching her, I was helpless with the knowledge that I couldn't do the speech for her. I had the first hint of the melancholy thought that I've had over and over since then: This sweet, sweet, sweet tiny little girl, who so depends on the Grownups in her life, can't always be safe at home with Mommy and Daddy.

...and the Bus Boycott helped other African American people believe that they could change the laws too, and they started the Civil Rights Movement.

The Grownups are going to die and leave her in charge too, wondering just who thought that was a good idea.

Rosa still teaches, even in death.


rameau's nephew said...

The sharp intake of breath and wave of emotion that hit me when I heard the news surprised me. She is an icon for the ages, indeed.

Betty sounds like a sweetheart, and it is a telling that she chose such a character to present. A testament to the way you and/or WW have raised her...

And it is scary without the grownups around. Without my noticing, really, I appear to have grown old (or at least up), but find myself curiously lacking the wisdom in the ways of the world I blithely assumed that grownups were imparted.

I was probably skipping out, getting stoned in the parking lot, the day they handed it out.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

Nice post Ned.


handdrummer said...

Thanks Neddy.

I didn't have the heart to face the fear you articulated so well.

I could not do more than post her photo and add a bland sentence that didn't even start to explain what Ms. Parks meant to me, a half breed Indian kid.

So I wimped out.

You didn't.

Many thanks.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Yeah, isn't that something.

If you were subjected to daily, institutionalized humiliation you'd do it too. Yup.

Bringing up our Bettys with this sort of care and mindfulness *is* brave and true and life-changing though. I think the grassroots is predicated on everybody doing a little. It's like, everybody who boycotted th' buses played as big a part on the sea change as Rosa. Without them she'd be a cantankerous ol' footnote.

She was like th' Lonnie Donnegan to MLK Jr.'s Beatles. It's always powerful when people have just plain had it, but when a prim 42-year old woman in horn rims has had it, that's when you know shit is fucked up.


The Heretik said...

Nicely said.

Kevin Wolf said...

Jesus, Neddie. I'd be happy to leave the world to the likes of Betty.

The question is, are there enough of her?

Employee of the Month said...

Lovely Neddie.

Apple, nice - Apple.com

XTCfan said...

Well said, Ned (that should be your nickname, I think: Well-Said Ned), and to Bobby's also well-made point, I have to wonder whether 'mericans have it in us any more to sacrifice. As Bobby pointed out, all the boycotters, all the sit-inners, all the tear-gassees and dog-bitees and firehose-sprayees made tremendous sacrifices toward their common cause.

But we live in a different time. Reagan and his disciples have worked to focus us inward on individual wants (not needs) and perceived wrongs, while corporations and cronies have worked hard to change the social landscape, to make it harder and harder for the grassroots to flourish and spread into areas they don't want them to be.

We need another Rosa Parks to say enough, to inspire us to dig in and join her. I thought for a while that Cindy Sheehan might be her, but she's been strangely quiet lately (or maybe I just haven't been listening hard enough). I know I'm ready to sacrifice, but where to start? It seems there are so many problems right now that we lack the clear focus provided by the Civil Rights movement.

I don't know. Just typing thoughts as they come out, I guess. Better get back to tending my garden. Or maybe I should just take some more


pi said...

jeez, y'all... not to contradict a one of those righteous words, but the most important thing about Ms. Parks keeps getting left out.

It's this: she was no random fed-up person. She was an _activist_, by damn, and she knew what she was doing and why. The training she got at the Highlander School likely had everything to do with her ability to keep her cool and state her case in ways the world could hear.

And yeah, so's Cindy Sheehan. But the world isn't just rolling for activists. It never did, in truth, but many of the ways the system's changed in the last generation are adaptations that render it less vulnerable to our minstrations.