Rosa Parks after her Arrest for refusing to give her seat to a white person.

Rosa Parks and the Power of No

In 1900, Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating bus passengers by race

Conductors had the power to assign seats to carry out that purpose; however, no passengers were required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and there were no other seats available.

Over time Montgomery bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move or stand for whites.

Blacks had the ‘right’ to stay seated, but they had no support from law enforcement for exercising that right.

A right that isn’t enforced by law is useless.

In the South, when Blacks asserted any of their God-given rights under Federal law, the result was an arrest, a beating, or a murder.

When he (the driver) saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.” Rosa Parks

I live in San Francisco and use my legs for transportation.

My favorite walk is the five miles to Precita Park which takes me from the Fillmore District, through the Castro and into the Mission District.

Along the way, I see what we San Francisco old-timers call Reagan’s Children; ragged bundles of suffering, huddled on corners, under sheets, shoving carts, or motionless under the glaring sun.

Reagan's Children
Rand’s Children

President Reagan had a grand utopian vision of a shining city upon a hill, but he didn’t want to fund it.

Reagan's Shining City on A Hill
A shining city upon a Hill found at GIPHY

One would expect the citizens of a shining city to know how wrong it is to let the elderly and the disabled die on their streets.

One would expect these citizens to pay any expense to bring back the light.

I am no fan of Ronald Reagan, but he left office decades ago.

The United States can’t be the light of the world if we live in darkness at home.

Our leaders prance around the globe to promote the values of democracy.

But if we’re too cheap to feed our own children; if we allow a class of billionaires to incarcerate the poor for profit, if we allow racism to create an underclass trapped in a generations-long cycle of poverty, we look like hypocrites and hypocrisy breeds cynicism.

I think this is one of the many reasons we have a president like Trump: a cynical ideologue who uses the power of the federal government to enrich himself and his cronies. Trump expects us to accept his corrupt and empty vision of America and laud him as a great president when he lies.

We have a history of doing that.

Back in the before times, (Before COVID19) I boarded a crowded bus and took a seat next to a young mother who sat her daughter on her lap.

The child was about six.

She gazed out of the window and asked her mother about a man sleeping barefoot on the sidewalk.

“Mommy? Why is that man sleeping there?”

“He doesn’t have a home.”

“Why doesn’t he have a home?”

“I guess — because he decided he didn’t want one?”

“Why would he do that?”

A homeless man asleep on concrete

I smiled as I remembered a similar conversation with my grandmother when I was six.

We were walking through a park in Kew Gardens, New York.  I saw a man of about 50, in filthy clothes, stretched out on a bench.

“Grandma, why is he so dirty?”

She whispered: “He’s sick in the head, Robby.”

The man suddenly sat up and muttered to himself.

“Grandma, where is his family?”

My grandmother sensed my anxiety. She knelt and looked into my eyes: “If he doesn’t not have a family, Robby, America is his family. We have hospitals for people like him. The police will see him and take him to one of those hospitals. The doctors will clean him up. He’ll be safe. He’ll get treatment. We take care of each other, in America, Robbie. That’s what makes us great.”

My grandmother’s words made me feel safe.

Freedom from Fear-
“”Freedom from Fear” Ours to Fight For

If we are to restore our democracy, we must decide to live our principles in our daily lives: it’s the small acts of integrity that count.

Today I can marry my gay partner because I belonged to a generation of queers who said no to living like criminals.

We Americans are called to a mission, whether we are born here or come
as immigrants.

That mission is spelled out for us by our founders and the greatest President of the 20th Century.

To promote the idea that all people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Those principles became FDR’s Four Freedoms:

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

The New Deal was an experiment in regulating capitalism to fund federal and state programs specifically designed to prevent the conditions that breed fascism.

Roosevelt believed that access to the the kind of education that promotes class mobility is the best defense against fascism and the inequality that breeds it.

Most of the allied nations adopted some form of the New Deal, and some
of them kept it and are doing quite well.

The United States chose to dismantle the New Deal beginning with Ronald Reagan, and now we’re in the grip of tyranny, so I guess FDR was right.

The underlying premise of our system of government is that every citizen deserves of a chance to succeed at building a life worth living.

The U.S. Constitution was established to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare.

A President incites violence against his own citizen violates the fundamental the basic duties of his office. This must not stand.

We must say no to the hypocrisy and corruption that drains us of our lives.

We must do as Rosa Parks did.

“I did not want to be mistreated; I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was an opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Rosa Parks

(c)Rob Goldstein 2020
‘Freedom from Fear’ by Norman Rockwell and Fingerprinting Rosa Parks are public domain.

“On Concrete’ and ‘Rand’s Children are (c)Rob Goldstein 2012-2020

10 thoughts on “Rosa Parks and the Power of No

  1. What happened to the concept of compassionate capitalism. You know, by the Capitalist that says, “I am lucky to have achieved what I have, I am blessed to not want for anything, it is my responsibility to help others get a leg up, just as those who came before me gave me a leg up. Nobody succeeds on their own nobody succeeds in a vacuum.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The myth of extreme individuality is essentially anti-social. Adults can’t ‘sacrifice’ an AK47 to spare our children the violence of school shootings are morally bankrupt. Everything we do is social, including our precious individuality. You certainly have the right idea. There is no such thing as a self-made anyone. I am alive today because of the people who taught me, loved me, and nurtured me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Rob,
    The LGBTQ community has worked hard and we now can live with less fear. It took years of political and social fighting, but we have made forward strides. The Black and Brown communities have been fighting the prejudices and currently, they seem to have things worse. I can’t imagine what it feels like for black males to live with the fear of being shot and killed by law enforcement. Until all people have equal rights, we should not stop working. Thank you for your piece, because it keeps these issues in the spotlight.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Chuck. Our Black citizens ask the rest of us to unite with them in this fight for their lives. Trump will take us back to a time when any bigot with white skin could kill with impunity. I’m not going back without a fight. :)Thanks for leaving a comment, Chuck. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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