The Free Press, Mankato, MN

St. Peter news

January 21, 2013

MLK speaker urges collective action in age of Obama



Cohen said she in no way excuses violent crimes such as Albert’s murder due to the culture and oppression of growing up poor and black in America. She is suggesting, just as King did more than 50 years ago, that larger solutions come from understanding these “enemies.” And that change can only occur with “the coordinated struggle of everyday people.”

King did not act alone, Cohen said. Great individuals tend to be preserved in history, including King and Rosa Parks, when in reality, numerous people whose names will never be known played an even more important role in causing change by acting together.

Parks was not the first black person to refuse to move to the back of the bus, Cohen said. There had been previous arrests, and a movement had formed with people who had discussions with each arrest about whether that was the one that should trigger a collective action.

Parks’ arrest was deemed the right moment, and the Montgomery Improvement Association coordinated the 13-month bus boycott in 1955-56. King, president of the association, emerged from the event as a prominent civil rights leader, she said.

While history credits King, there were thousands of others that made the boycott happen — people who planned the movement, those who mobilized it, and every person who walked or carpooled for a year to avoid the bus.

Change happens because of people willing to “leverage limited resources for a greater good,” she said.

“It was the work of everyday people,” she said. “This is the model of activism that I believe Dr. King would want us to follow.”

So, on inauguration day for Obama, Cohen urged the audience at Christ Chapel to hold their president and other elected officials accountable for people outside the political system in lieu of focusing so much on the middle class. And she asked all of us to speak and to act on behalf of the disenfranchised.

“In the tradition of Dr. King, we must stop waiting for a new messiah,” she said.

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