Crazy Faith Ministries
Every so often I think about the courage and the determination that Black people had as they waged the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They were, as Fannie Lou Hamer so eloquently said, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” They were tired of being treated like objects, tired of not being heard, tired of having to swallow their pride in order to save their lives and scrape the bottom of the American system for a decent way to live.
Their fatigue, coupled with their resolve, helped them to boycott the very thing they all needed most: transportation. They needed to use buses in order to get to their jobs, even though those jobs were not well-paying. Contrary to popular myth, Black people were not and are not lazy, with no desire to work. In my lifetime, I have seen way too many people of color working two, sometimes three jobs in order to make a living. The people in Montgomery needed to make a living, as paltry as it was, and they needed the buses.
But it was the very thing they needed most that they boycotted.
It was probably the case that the White establishment did not believe the boycott would last long – because the White establishment knew how badly the “Negroes,” as we were called then, needed the buses. But they did not consider the reality that human beings seek dignity, that they might endure being humiliated for a while, but that when that time is over, they will do what they have to do in order to live in dignity.
I was thinking about that as I was talking with some friends this week about what it would take for this country to treat Black and Brown people and other “undesirables” as human. Someone suggested a boycott of a certain establishment, a retail operation which has a history of not paying its employees well in general and of exploiting them as well. “If Black folks would just boycott them,” said a friend, “we’d see some changes, because the only thing oppressors respond to is their money.”
Bother their money, threaten their potential for making money, mess with their wealth, and they will do what they can do in order to get government to honor the needs and requests of the people. Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News not because the people in charge believed or believe he is an immoral person who treated women poorly, but because way too many advertisers jumped ship.
When it comes to money, corporations listen.
The participants in the Montgomery Bus Boycott bothered the money of their oppressors. And it wasn’t just the buses that the people boycotted. They boycotted retail establishments that had coveted Black dollars while dehumanizing the Black people who supplied the dollars. So, the people said “enough.” Women, denied the privilege of trying clothes on before they bought them, simply stopped buying clothes at those stores. Over the Easter holiday, a high time for retailers, Black women simply did not buy new clothes, at least not from White stores.
They were sick and tired of being sick and tired.
As we talked about the power of boycotting, I heard people say, “Yeah, but in some rural places, that’s the only place where people can buy things.” OK. True, but back in Montgomery, White homes were the place of employment for Black people; in other words, the restrictions on where one could work and where one could shop were the same, and yet, people said “enough.” Some of them hitched rides to work. Others walked. Families communicated and helped each other in every aspect of their lives, from sharing food to helping to take care of children. The Black community became a “beloved community” in the truest sense, banded together for the cause of dignity and justice.
If we would embrace our dignity, if we would dare challenge the policies of this nation by compromising the ability of the policymakers to make money, we would see miracles, not only in the area of policy, but in the area of Black life. If we would but embrace our dignity, I bet the feeling and the determination to hold on until we received justice would become contagious, and at the end of a very real and uncomfortable struggle, we would see change. Our children would see change. And the world would see the power of community.
Change is not going to come because we complain. The fights for justice being waged all over the country will produce change, but not in a short period of time. Oh, but if we would bother somebody’s money, we would see the change we want and need and deserve in a hurry.
The new administration is not our greatest enemy; our lack of desire to do the work required for justice is our greatest enemy. We want to hold onto what we have – which is not much – and in so doing, we are passing by or negating the justice and dignity we deserve. Jesus the Christ said that whoever wanted to save his life would lose it, but whomever wanted to lose his (her) life for Jesus’ sake would gain it.
That is a truth, and if we would live it, like the people of Montgomery did so many years ago, we would see life … and have life … abundantly.
Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is a preacher, writer and organizer She is available for speaking. She can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org.