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Where Have All The Role Models Gone?

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After reading about the passing of Rosa Parks Tuesday, I found myself rather depressed. This was a bit strange for me since a) the Civil Rights movement was way before my time and b) I’m not African American. But nonetheless, I felt a sense of sorrow that I could not quite explain. The obvious reason is that despite my disconnection to the Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks was a national icon. She was a symbol of peaceful resistance and defiance against oppression and discrimination, issues that we still find ourselves facing each and every day in this country.

And that’s when it hit me. I suddenly found myself wondering if maybe Rosa Parks was the last great role model left in our country. I look around at what people call “role models” these days and find the selection rather grim. Corporate owned sports players who resemble walking logos more than people. Manufactured film and music stars who are more concerned with their public image than their views on world issues. Even the celebrities that speak out against hunger and government corruption seem to be quite fake and insincere as they prance around in their Armani and Gucci while they cry out against poverty. Where are the Martin Luther Kings or the Malcolm Xs in our world today? People who have the passion and the charisma to inspire the masses to stand up and demand change?

Maybe the real question is, what has happened to the spirit of resistance and dissent in our country? The key ingredient that makes a democracy a democracy seems to be missing in the US right now. We are three years into a war that the majority of Americans now believe we should not be in and still the anti-war movement is paltry in comparison to the passion and fury that was behind the Vietnam War protests or the Civil Rights movement. Gone are the images of mass sit-ins that shut down public services. Gone are the images of college students abandoning their classes to take to the streets in opposition to what they believed was an unjust war.

Sure we have dissent today and sure we have anti-war marches. But for some reason when I watch these on TV (what little coverage they get) or read about them on the internet, I can’t help but feel as if they lack the passion or the desperation that the Vietnam War protests or the Civil Rights movement had. They feel half-assed and I keep expecting to see a “this event sponsored by” banner floating somewhere in the crowds. And while acts of civil disobedience like Cindy Sheehan’s protests are much needed and appreciated by those against the policies of the current administration, I can’t help but feel like the whole thing is being lost on both those that participate and those that watch or read about it from home.

Something is not working and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Is it that somehow we as Americans have managed to sink to new lows in apathy and complacency? Or is it that our government has managed to hone their tools and methods of quashing dissent and controlling our flow of information so well that we don’t even realize how numb we have become to the injustices that are taking place in the world around us? Barely a decade ago thousands rioted in the streets when police officers were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King (not that I condone rioting) but for some reason the images of tens of thousands of poor Americans trapped in a storm ravaged city hardly seemed to register on our collective rage meters. Sure we ranted about it a lot on our blogs and reporters teared up and asked the “tough questions”, but at the end of the day it seems as if we all just rolled back over and quickly forgot what that event was trying to teach us.

So what is it going to take? What is it that we are missing or doing wrong? How much longer are we going to allow our government to lie to us and manipulate us before we stand up and say enough is enough? When is the next generation of positive, passionate, and active role-models going to emerge from the masses and inspire us to grow a spine and some heart and demand that our government starts listening to us. That’s right…you and me, the ones who make this country that is supposedly of, by and for the people work!

I hope and pray every day that it won’t take another thousand dead Americans or Iraqi civilians to wake us up and kick our tails into gear.


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About J. Michael Parker