ROSA PARKS AND THE PROXIMITY OF CHANGE

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

–Lao Tzu

Rosa Parks was born one hundred years ago. For many, she is the seamstress who refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus in order for a white passenger to sit. For those who experienced or have studied the Civil Right’s Movement, it is understood to have been more than a spontaneous act. It was planned by a woman who made a conscious decision to make a difference.

The platform for her action could have been on a larger scale – storming the state capital or finding another way to “capture the hearts and minds of America.” But, quietly, and without fanfare, she chose to stay within her town, her neighborhood. She chose a bus in her city.

And that’s where it starts. Changes to our cities, states, nation and world start in the places closest to us. They ripple into wider open spaces occupied by the marginalized and oppressed. Martin Luther King, whose leadership role was born from Parks’ rebellion, famously said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The illusionary global community creates a seeming infinity of problems. As an invention of commerce, it is at times overwhelming – especially to younger generations who are “connected” across oceans, time zones and cultures.

Recently, I attended a forum on the history of the women’s movement in Portland, Oregon. The panelists were four women who did not necessarily know one another, but were individually pivotal within a larger collective. A twenty-something male college student stood up to comment. His tone was somewhat frazzled and defeated. “How can we make any difference when we are up against so much and there are so many problems in the world?” he asked. “I don’t know where to start.”

As the panelists recalled having similar thoughts some forty years prior, I couldn’t help but think the swath of millennial’s whose paradigm consists of information overload and non-stop technology. Yes, things are different. We cannot evoke change and reform like the tactics of our parents and grandparents in the 60s and 70s. The media is different. Politics are more complex. Taking it to the streets makes a statement, but it does not necessarily provoke sustained movements like those in the past.

Then it hit me: the singular thread woven through such movements as Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, and the Abolitionist is locale. Every movement began in a single street or city. And then it spread. Those seeds of change, like in cycles of nature, were planted and then dispersed in order to begin again. To use Web jargon, it is iteration at its best.

Neighborhoods, cities, and yes, buses, might seem mundane against the backdrop of glorified global revolution as lit up by media graphics. But, from Rosa Parks to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to William Lloyd Garrison, change has always started with a single decision; an act of conscience. Those are the miniscule sparks that have begun every revolution.