“To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”  ~Rosa Parks

“Are you going to stand up?” the driver demanded. Rosa Parks looked straight at him and said: “No.” Flustered, and not quite sure what to do, Blake (the driver) retorted, “Well, I’m going to have you arrested.” And Parks, still sitting next to the window, replied softly, “You may do that.” 

~Excerpt from Douglas Brinkley’s 2000 Rosa Parks biography.

Rosa Parks has become an icon of the American Civil Rights movement, an activist whose quiet heroism inspires me.  When I was doing the research for Marching Toward Coverage, I learned that Rosa had been an activist for years before this moment and was carefully selected for her role in this protest. I’m not sure if Rosa or anyone could have anticipated the monumental chain of events her actions that evening in December of 1955 would initiate.  Rosa’s refusal to move to the “colored section” of the bus, and her subsequent arrest, sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. This in turn led to many more protests, ultimately culminating in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

The Civil Rights movement pushed our country toward social justice, and we certainly made some huge strides. But the work is unfinished. To further our goals of social justice, we need to make healthcare a right in this country.  We can do this through stepping up our activism, individually and collectively.

As I wrote Marching Toward Coverage, I thought about how to encourage more women to engage in activism. I looked for inspiration from ordinary citizens who had the courage to do extraordinary things.  Rosa Parks is one of them. She showed us that small actions can spark big change. 

We don’t necessarily know which steps will make a difference, but as Parks said, the important thing is to try. We must take that first step, even if we feel hesitant.  And then the next step, with more conviction. Through my work on healthcare reform, I’ve taken some initial steps to make healthcare a right in the US.  With my new book I’m taking a bigger leap.  But it will only make a difference if enough of us act.

Rosa’s first step took courage.  It also made a tremendous difference in the course of American history.  We can make a difference now, too, if enough of us takes that first step. We all have a part to play to ensure that healthcare becomes a right in this country.

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