Rosa Parks and organizing

colist-admin at colist-admin at
Mon Apr 3 21:41:57 CDT 2000

[ed:  thanks to Amy for more contribution to the Rosa Parks discussion.]

From: Amy Hubbard <ahubbard at>

The Washington Post did an update on the women who were arrested before 
Rosa Parks became the test case. It was an excellent article and the cite 
is below. You can retrieve it from the Washington Post archives 
( for a small fee charged to a credit card over the 
Sunday, April 12, 1998 ; Page F01 Section: Style Word Count: 5437 Another 
important thing about this case is how resources and social networks become 
obscured by the mythologizing of the media and the development of movement 
legends. (As you know Randy)Sociologists had a lot of theories prior to the 
60s about why people got involved in social movements (relative 
deprivation, neurotic need, being "swept up" by magical, powerful beliefs) 
that involved psychological changes and generally disregarded the level of 
community organization in place. Not that that isn't important in many 
ways, but once sociologists found themselves actually INVOLVED in the 
movements of the 60s, it became apparent to some folks (as it would to any 
good organizer) that social networks and resources were critical in 
mobilizing people into social movements. Some folks in that school of 
thought (the resource mobilization school) have even argued that 
psychological grievances are even less important than resources and social 
networks in mobilizing people. I see a lot of truth in this in my own life 
and in the movements I've observed and participated in. (I just did support 
work for my husband who got arrested at the Supreme Court protesting the 
imprisonment of Mumia Abu Jamal because a friend of ours in peace studies 
had originally asked us to host a meeting for the organizers of the civil 
disobedience. While we shared the views of the organizers, we wouldn't have 
gotten involved without a friend calling us about it.) Nevertheless, a lot 
of my students still believe that they don't get involved in social 
movements because they just "don't care enough." The mythology around Rosa 
Parks (and other movement icons) reinforces a sort of powerless because 
people often assume that the real issue is "caring enough" or being the 
right kind of person (a movement saint who will sacrifice anything to do 
the right thing). The fact is that Rosa Parks was someone who cared and 
sacrificed but she is remembered today NOT because of that but because the 
local activists in Montgomery were looking for a test case and she was an 
upstanding pillar of the community, whereas the previous women were not. 
The bus boycott didn't just emerge out of nothing -- there were 
organizations and activists already in place. Rosa Parks, as others have 
already noted, didn't just decide not to give her seat up one day. She had 
been through lots of training and organizing experience already. And it 
could have also been someone other than Rosa Parks who is remembered for 
starting it.

Amy Hubbard
Dept. of Sociology
Randolph-Macon College
PO Box 5005
Ashland, VA
ahubbard at
(o) 804-752-7380
(h) 202-784-8922 

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