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

A Note from the Silenced Majority

Thank you to Karen Kleis for sharing this with me.

Trump says he won the election and wants us to “work together” to “Make America Great Again”.

This is our response:

•We will not “work together” to privatize Medicare, cut Social Security and Medicaid.

•We will not “work together” to build a wall.

•We will not “work together” to persecute Muslims.

•We will not “work together” to shut out refugees from other countries.

•We will not “work together” to lower taxes on the 1% and increase taxes on the middle class and poor.

•We will not “work together” to help Trump use the Presidency to enrich himself.

•We will not “work together” to weaken and demolish environmental protection.

•We will not “work together” to sell American lands, especially National Parks, to companies which then despoil those lands.

•We will not “work together” to enable the extinction of other species.

•We will not “work together” to remove the civil rights of other citizens.

•We will not “work together” to subvert our allies and the NATO Alliance.

•We will not “work together” to slash funds for public education.

•We will not “work together” to take essential public services from people
who are poor.

•We will not “work together” to remove sensible gun control.

•We will not “work together” to drop the minimum wage.

•We will not “work together” to destroy the Unions.

•We will not “work together” to suppress and deny scientific fact.

•We will not “work together” to criminalize abortion or restrict health care for women.

•We will not “work together” to increase the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

•We will not “work together” to put even more “big money” into politics.

•We will not “work together” to violate the Geneva Convention.

•We will not “work together” to normalize the vile and uninformed
views of the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi Party, and white supremacists.

•We will not “work together” to deny health care to people who need it.

•We will not “work together” to weaken food and drug safety.

•We will not “work together” to increase voter suppression.

•We will not “work together” to normalize tyranny.

•We will not “work together” to cut ethical oversight at any level of government.

•We will not “work together”  impose a pipeline for the transport oil on
Sacred Ground for Native Americans.

•We will not “work together” together to promote the lie that American
Democracy is as corrupt as a Russian Oligarchy.

•We will not “work together” together to enable a pathological liar.

•We will not “work together” together to enable a criminal regime.

This is our line and we draw it because words like “winning,” “being great again,” “rich” or even “beautiful” are meaningless when we scapegoat our fellow citizens and degrade our most cherished Democratic values and Institutions.

Signed,

The Majority

Photograph of “Torn Constitution” (c) Rob Goldstein 2017-2020
First published May 16. 2017-Revised September 11, 2020

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The Politics of Everyday Evil

The American Civil War was the topic of U.S. History;  the teacher asked us to imagine what life was like for a slave.

I was fresh from South Carolina and had just finished reading ‘Mandingo,’ so I raised my hand and said, “I think it would be awful to get bred.”

“Get — bread?” the teacher asked.

“Yes, ma’am. They bred slaves for the babies.”

“Where did you hear that? I’ve never heard such a thing.”

I instinctively knew Mandingo was not a good source, so I said, “Everyone in the South knows how to breed livestock. Slaves was livestock.”

The teacher smiled. “Were,” she corrected. “I’ll research this tonight, and if you’re right, I’ll apologize tomorrow.”

The next day I got an apology.

“By the laws of competition no one can carry on a thriving business in breeding slaves for the market, unless the rights of mothers be utterly trampled underfoot, and (to borrow Mrs, Stowe’s phrase, babies be sold by the pound; 2, The right of chastity be utterly denied to every slave woman, and the right of rape be sharply conceded to the master ; 3, All right of a slave to a wife or children, as well as to property or to a native soil, be totally exploded ; 4, The unlimited use of the whip be given to the master. Every one of these things is not only a stern reality, (and if you do not know them, I must say it is you that are ignorant, not I that misrepresent,) but they are even so cherished that no man in the South could publicly speak against any of them, without being tarred and feathered, or otherwise violently driven out.”
The Character of the Southern States of America, 1863

I consider the white supremacist a barbarian, and I define barbarism as a set of regressive beliefs and behaviors that are destructive to an advanced global civilization.

“Barbarism” in its contemporary sense is variously interpreted as meaning either a technologically advanced but extremely exploitative and oppressive society (e.g. a victory and world domination by Nazi Germany and its Fascist allies); a collapse of technological civilization due to Capitalism causing a Nuclear War or ecological disaster; or the one form of barbarism bringing on the other.” Barbarian Defined

Barbarians are not stupid; they make contingency plans when facing defeat.

Consider that as early as 1822,  slave owners in Charleston discussed the use of ‘white tradesmen’ as a cheap substitute for slaves:

“Sufficient data are not at hand to form a precise estimate of the whole expense of a Charleston black mechanic or house servant. But from the above statement, it must greatly exceed that of the field slaves. And when the draw-backs from his efficiency are considered, it is probable that the labor of white men will, on the whole, be as cheap as that of the slave.
Thoughts on a Slave Revolt 1822

The Union won the battle against the brutality of slavery, but the former slaves were viewed by their former owners as a problem:

“In 1860, failing to solve its part of the world’s problem of equity in human relationships, the commonwealth clashed with the dominant idea of the period. In the championship of their system the planters and their neighbors were defeated, and their system was shattered as far as it could be by its victorious enemies encamped upon the field. But the pendulum swings again. Facts of human nature and the laws of civilized social welfare are too stubborn for the theories of negrophiles as well as of negrophobes. The slave labor problem has disappeared, but the negro problem remains.”
The Slave Labor Problem in the Charleston District 1906

Lawlessness and terror were the South’s solution to the ‘negro’ problem, just as they are now.

“After the Civil War, [slave patrols] seamlessly morphed into the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts and other extra-legal organizations with the same purpose: to keep the black population cowed and under control. Fear of the black population is also why Southern society long-accepted brutality in law enforcement to a greater degree than other parts of the country did.” American Violence and Southern Culture

Some people think of the victory of the Allies over the Nazis as an irrevocable defeat of evil.

The same claim is often made about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Ronald Reagan defeated evil!”

No, he didn’t.

The United States won a temporary victory over Russia’s Soviet Union, now a corrupt capitalist oligarchy that infiltrates our media and abuses the freedoms of our democracy to make our lives a living hell.

Evil adapts and waits.

Evil retreats, and becomes invisible until its crimes are such a stain on the collective soul they can no longer be ignored.

Before we know it, new camps are built and fresh slaves are captured and abused.

“The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons”
Hannah Arendt

Rob Goldstein 2016-2020

Header image, Getty Images 

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