I was just taking my usual jaunt through websites this morning at work, occasionally exclaiming to myself and my co worker Tania about how awesomely this pot of coffee turned out today, and I dove right into Metafilter. There was a thread for Rosa Parks yesterday, with Metafilter’s trademark linear constellation of single periods to indicate a moment of silence, a show of respect. Scattered amongst the stops were various links to interviews, a bit of the ol’ MeFi cynicism about Parks’ impact and associations since her famous refusal to acquiesce to segregation, and then, this comment by dhartung caught my eye:

Rosa Parks is the answer to “What can one person do?”

Cranberry, you should read the PDF linked by spock. It was, in fact, what an entire community did, carefully choosing Parks as the perfect symbol. She wasn’t even the first person to be arrested. By marshalling their forces, sticking together as a group over the course of a year of personal hardship, the community of Montgomery was forced to concede — and the civil rights movement was given a morally energizing victory, one that still resonates today, where many others have been forgotten.

In many ways we don’t have a language for community action; we need to have symbolic heroes.

Now, you may think for just a shining, glowing second that I might be suggesting that ARGs are a sure-fire way to bridge that gap, a way to create a working vocabulary for those things that we do as a group in order to further a cause, to progress, to fix, to heal a wound, to solve a problem.

I’m not sure I could claim that, and back it up. We still look to our leaders, our heroes, whether they are self-selected, appointed by those who control resources, or whether they emerge suddenly through circumstance or serendipity.

But I do wonder sometimes, when we’re furiously working in IRC to solve a cipher and putting together over 200 assets to make a story, if we’re somehow striking flint and getting the sparks of that language of community, in spite of our propensity for singular symbols.