A couple weekends ago, I attended a workshop and discussion on citizen activism by David LaMotte. David, a musician and humanitarian activist, began the workshop with the story of Rosa Parks. He quickly went over the fateful day that made Rosa Parks an icon for the civil rights movement, but this is not the story that was important to him. It was the timeline before and after the snapshot in history that he found most intriguing. Before: Rosa Parks was a twelve year member and secretary of the NAACP. Prior to her joining the NAACP, she was married to Raymond Parks–a long-time member of the NAACP. Prior to Rosa and Raymond dating, someone introduced Raymond to the NAACP. The individual who introduced Raymond to the NAACP is, unfortunately, lost in history, but as LaMotte unfolded the timeline, everyone in the workshop silently agreed this unknown figure – active in the NAACP and brought his or her activism to Raymond – changed the world.
Equally important are the events that followed Rosa Parks’ flashpoint in history. The day after Rosa Parks’ arrest, 51 ministers came together in a Montgomery, Alabama church basement to discuss how they should proceed in regards to Parks’ arrest. After intense deliberation, the group of ministers decided that they would pursue Parks stance against injustice, which sparked America’s Civil Rights Movement. The individual whom the ministers agreed should take the lead and be the face of this movement because he was a newcomer to the city, was Martin Luther King, Jr. The deliberation and consensual agreement of these 51 mostly unknown ministers, in essence, catapulted the career and heroism of one the world’s greatest historical icons.
The conclusion I drew from LaMotte’s vignette was the enormous power individual’s have when they engage in activism, sparking participation, unabashed story telling, and/or following a purpose they believe in. However, many pull back from “being active”. Since acknowledgement is rarely immediate or beyond the patience of most people (if acknowledgement is even given within one’s lifetime, which is not always the case), it does not fulfill their “heroic mythologies”. Therefore, such pursuits are deemed naive and dismissed as “too ideological”, which LaMotte points out is an irony, for any goal in any business, operation, venture is an ideal that one attempts to strive to.
Listening to LaMotte convey his series of vignettes and discuss the very idea of “activism”, I began reflecting upon my intentions of joining a program like conflict analysis and resolution. Reflecting honestly, I realized that I truly do have an honest motivation in helping others, but I also do want to be lauded for my work. I am not the only one, otherwise Mary Shelley would not have written the dreaming Henry Clerval the way she did. Yet, for the last year and half of being in the program, I was upset in myself for feeling the way I did. I cannot help but dream of ideals and ideas of what I want to do and where I want to be. However, if there is anything that I learned from the field of conflict analysis and resolution, is that the thoughts, intentions, and actions of men and women are very complex. My intentions are not purely selfish, nor are they purely altruistic. They are somewhere in between and this is what makes me human. LaMotte’s talk helped me come to terms with this, but I also must be willing to be honest and critical about myself. However, criticism has its limits as well if it is going to shackle my potential to act or be creative.
The world needs heroes. They serve a purpose in inspiring people. However, we must remain cognizant that they are human, just like you, me, Raymond Parks, and the 51 ministers that change(d) history. Therefore, being active and pursuing things like peace, resolution, or reconciliation are all laudable, realistic goals, for it takes regular people – who are one in same as heroes – to pursue them. No one else can.