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On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks helped changed America by refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, launching the Montgomery bus boycott.

On September 17th, 2011, a group of frustrated citizens from all stripes of life took over a park on Wall Street, launching a protest that has now spread around the world, a call against the grotesque excesses of modern capitalism.

Crossposted at

The civil rights movement, in my opinion, the greatest grassroots movement in American history. But it is amazingly, little understood by most Americans. Over the past several years, I've taken upon myself to read about the fascinating history. It at one makes me incredibly proud to be an American, and disgusted. The intense bravery, self-discipline, and determination of those of all colors, against the cruelties of segregation. The horrors they faced perpetuated by people in power, who used despicable tactics against fellow humans beings.

Yes, we all know about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but how many Americans, especially of my generation, can name another civil rights hero? Two week ago we lost a great man when Reverand Fred Shuttleworth passed away - one of countless heroes of that generation. MLK didn't do it alone, and it what amazes me the most - how so many people stood up against injustice, and how so many did it peacefully. It was a true movement. Not a perfect movement, by any means, but a true one.

The demands then were not for an excise task, but for a fundamental shift in how society treated a whole classes and races, a rethinking of human dignity. That movement, though it has accomplished a lot, is not over. It didn't end with the Voting Rights Act.

We all like to think that we'd be on the right side of justice if put in those situations. But I truly wonder if I could match their bravery. Americans as a whole have a lot to learn from the civil rights movement, about both our potential for good, and our potential for evil.


One myth that has sustained is that of Rosa Parks. The story goes that she, one a spontaneous day, refused to give her seat, and the movement launched in response. The reality is that Rosa Parks was a leader, and that the campaign was planned well in advance, and she was the catalyst who choose to take action.

Movements don't happen by chance - they take planning, preparation, and leadership. That is one thing we forget about the civil rights movement, which worked incredibly hard to organize in segregated communities throughout the South, where people had almost no access to information. By letting this myth survive, we diminish the hard work of thousands in this movement.

I first heard about Occupy Wall Street back in July. Adbusters, a magazine that I've been subscribed to, whenever I have a home, for nearly eighty years, has been posting articles on their blogs, and in the magazines, for months. Within particular circles were deep discussions about what form the movement should take - the chief inspiration being Tahrir Square in Egypt. Incremental change, the purview of President Obama's 2008 election, wasn't doing nearly enough when looking at the immediate problems facing humanity - climate change, inequality, and rampant capitalism. But how should such a movement be structured?

There were articles on protest tactics.

Civil disobedience vs. Violence

What does revolution mean in Canada?

I was skeptical, but hopeful. In 2006, I'd joined when Adbusters had organized local action groups, in Los Angeles, only to be dissolutioned by the lack of action by the group - we could never agree on a single tactic, and most people didn't do their fair share of the work. Why would this movement be any different, I thought? So I read the articles - in-depth, and thoughtful - but did not head down to Wall Street on September 17th.


What makes a movement? When do social factors reach a point where action is inevitable, as it was in Birmingham that day in 1955. Have we reached a tipping point today? Is change near? I'm hopeful - a realistic idealist. Occupy Wall Street has made me realize that movements can still happen in today's world. It has also made me realize how difficult the challenge will be.

The organizers knew exactly where to take their inspiration from. The final Adbusters blog post before the protest began - "Some inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr. for this Saturday". There is another lesson from the civil rights movement - setbacks will happen. You'll lose patience, and want to turn to more radical tactics. There will be discord. People will infiltrate and try to divide you. The media will ignore you when you do good, and shower you with attention when you do bad, even if just for a moment.

But the odds we are facing, while great, pale in comparison to what southern blacks faced in the 1960's. In their resolve, we can find strength. They faced down an entire unjust system, and brought about change.

Yes we can.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yes We HAVE TO or we are SCREWED! (0+ / 0-)

    Like Melissa-Harris Perry recently said:

    We're all blacks now.

    The unemployment we face, the lack of choices in this market, have been faced by blacks all along.

    I think this is why MHP said that.

    It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

    by War on Error on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 05:27:16 PM PDT

  •  I am old enough to have been a fringe (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, Dube

    participant in the civil rights movement in the early 60s. I was thinking about it in relation to OWS. There was never any confusion about the ultimate goal of the civil rights movement. It was to put an end to the Jim Crow system of segregation and discrimination. There were clashing opinions about to get there, but we knew where we were going.

    In contrast the goal for OWS is more vague and abstract and we are still discussing about whether we should have a discussion about it.

    •  I Was Born In 1969 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gooserock, timewarp

      Before my time. I like to think, I know I would have been standing there. Protesting! I was raised in a family where color wasn't much of an issue. Now I get OWS doesn't have the ideas you or maybe I want. But I view them almost as the same. They're just pissed.

      When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

      by webranding on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 05:41:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  OWS has a feel about it (0+ / 0-)

        that reminds me of the 60s. I do think that it is going to have to develop more focus. Being against evil and corruption lacks specificity. What the public is pissed about is the economic impact on their lives.

        •  My Grandfather Passed Away A Few Months Ago (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          he came back from WWII. Only a high school education. 93 years young. When he came  back from WWII he took an entry level job at a Snap-On factory. Worked there for 35+ years. He was pretty proud he might have made the best tools known to man. He bought a nice house. Put three kids through college, including my mother! Life was good. It wasn't that long ago that was how things just used to be.

          When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

          by webranding on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 05:55:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  The Only Protests You'd Have LIKED to Join Were (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        webranding, Dube, Ignacio Magaloni

        the environmental ones. For everything else, a lot of people had mega personal risk at stake.

        Keep in mind the background of the Vietnam war protests was the risk of the continent becoming a shimmering pool of molten glass on 25 minutes' notice.

        We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

        by Gooserock on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 05:52:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  This Calls for Immediate Discussion! (0+ / 0-)

      Image Hosted by

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 05:53:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes and No. While Blacks Worked From Devastating (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dube, blueoldlady, Ignacio Magaloni

    limits to assets and societal support, the blatant ostracization and restrictions made an obvious tight goal for them to focus on: legal freedom to participate. In that sense it was similar to the Arab spring uprisings. Overwhelming majorities in that population could support such an easily understood goal due to universally sharing the same oppression.

    But the situation we're in today is one that's never existed before.

    We have the entire mass population that's had one of the highest standards of living in the world at least for its mainstream, a standard unknown in all human history prior to the oldest living memory, under attack by the power structure and economy of society that built it in the first place. Economically, the entire global economy is joining the fight against us.

    This lifestyle only came to pass thanks to a massive legislative program of thousands of thousands of policies, most of them not individually created by and demanded by the common people, and never well-known to the population. The basic philosophy has been castigated and poorly defended, with the most important principles ceasing to even be mentioned for half a lifetime now.

    As a result our resistance is so uninformed that they're actually demanding some identical steps the destructive movement itself implemented to launch the dismantling.

    When your problem is direct abuse you have direct recourse. You can force your way into a business that unjustly bars your entry. You can sit down and strike a business that works you dangerously or pays you unfairly. Almost anyone seeing such a demonstration can easily understand the injustice and moral clarity of the resistance.

    But when your problem is a government --your own government, not a conquering invader-- steadily repealing the thousands of structures of civilization across a continent, what do you strike? Whom do you deny service? What right can you barge in to exercise, and where could you go to barge?

    How does a once-epically privileged population marshall the will, energy and strength to fight like marginalized minorities have had to --let alone convince those still marginalized to join the struggle?

    As the engineer said in Close Encounters, "First day of school, folks."

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 05:50:04 PM PDT

    •  Thoughtful and informative. (0+ / 0-)

      Maybe we need to look for a different model than the civil rights movement - the Great Depression, or the era of the robber barons when as someone has said elections became auctions and every seat in Congress was for sale to the highest bidder.

      If OWS gets enough people seriously hot and bothered about inequality, if the MSM picks up the meme (see Wednesday's USA Today), if Elizabeth Warren gets elected to the Senate and by some miracle a few of the really bad apples like Eric Cantor are defeated, if people seriously beginning to believe that today's robber barons "aren't winning, they're cheating", and they didn't earn their success, they stole it -  then maybe some good things start happening.

      In some ways, this could be easier than the civil rights struggle, because "all" we have to do is open the hearts and minds of voters to understand that our own passivity is what enabled all the legalized theft.


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