27 October 2005

To those who stand up

The other night I heard of the death of Rosa Parks, the woman who famously would not give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. She was 92.

"It's a cliché to say she was the mother of the civil rights movement, but she really was," said Julian Bond, chairman of the board of the NAACP. "She set in motion a movement that hasn't ended."

She was a 42-year-old seamstress and a member of the NAACP when she was jailed for her act of defiance and fined $14. She said in 1992, “The real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."

Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system organized by Martin Luther King. It led to a Supreme Court decision that discrimination on public transport was unconstitutional. The movement culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

All day I had the Neville Brothers song going through my head:

Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.
Thank you Miss Rosa you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.

This feeling persisted with me all day, and then I stayed up to watch the documentary ‘Excellent Cadavers’ on SBS.

Through the eyes of journalist Alexander Stille, it investigated the ongoing power of the mafia and the relationship between Cosa Nostra and the Italian politicians of the 70s, 80s and 90s. This is a bit of an obsession with me at the moment, as I’m re-reading Peter Robb’s ‘Midnight in Sicily’, a book I treasure, and I will be travelling in Italy soon and will visit as much of Sicily as I can.

I was deeply moved by the story of the heroic anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two others who stood up against genuine evil despite the fact that they were both certain they would not survive the experience.

After his friend Falcone’s sensational death when the Corleonese blew up 400 METRES of freeway in order to make sure he was dead, a colleague of Borsellino’s begged him to slow down and take a break from his relentless workload. The magistrate explained that he had to work like this, as he had so little time left. He was right. He was killed by a car bomb in 1992 on the orders of this piece of filth:

I was depressed to hear that the current Prime Minister, the billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, is busy dismantling much of the anti-mafia legislation that Falcone, Borsellino and so many others, like the police captain Carlo Dalla Chiesa, literally gave their lives to enact.

But here’s to those who stand up.

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