On why our understanding of historical social movements and changes is important

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“ Movements are reduced to individuals – Rosa Parks’ momentary act of defiance on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama is credited with forcing change, rather than the subsequent year-long transport boycott by the city’s black population. Individuals, meanwhile, are elevated to icons: Parks is sold as a demure seamstress, ignoring a life of activism in which she insisted on the right to use violence in self-defence. Or they are condemned to invisibility: Claudette Colvin was ejected from a bus nine months before Parks after also refusing to give up her seat, but her cause was dropped after she became pregnant at 15. Until recently, she was left out of the story altogether (…) Radical change is most likely to come from below, be fiercely resisted by entrenched interests from above and achieved through confrontation. ‘If those who have do not give, those who haven’t must take,’ argued the late anti-racist intellectual Ambalavaner Sivanandan. This is not a message those in power are keen to promote, lest their own interests be challenged (…) …knowing that some of our most cherished rights were won by often uncelebrated people facing great odds, unrelenting vilification and, at times, state repression, suggests that at least some of those being denigrated today will be celebrated one day. The means by which we might achieve progressive change may shift according to the context – but the need for it never goes away ”

Gary Younge, ‘Big business is hijacking our radical past. We must stop it’, The Guardian

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