“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”–Dr. Seuss
During the election of 2008, I was, for the first time in my life, fired up about politics. I studied all the candidates, listened carefully to the debates, and was glued to NPR, CNN, and MSNBC. I believed. I could feel that change was coming. I had hope.
It is now four years later and another Election Day, and what I mostly feel is disappointed. Not necessarily at our President–I think he tried his best–but at the realization that our government is a huge tangled mess. So much so that I don’t think one man or one woman from either party could begin to untie the giant knot that binds up any kind of forward progress. There is too much greed, too much self-interest, too much money pulling from every direction. I’m not saying that politicians are bad men and women (okay, a few are, but I’m not going to name names), but I think they are no match for the task at hand.
Regardless, I’m still going to vote. Voting is an enormous privilege, and I never want to take our democracy for granted. Besides, I believe in voting, and I think you should vote too. I may have lost my faith in our government’s ability to fix our country’s problems, but I firmly believe that the acts of individuals make a difference. I have confidence in the power of grassroots effort. Environmental activist Paul Watson says it best:
“All social change comes from the passion and intervention of individuals or small groups of individuals. Slavery wasn’t ended by any government or any institution. Women got the right to vote not because of any government. The civil rights movement, the same thing. India with Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa with Nelson Mandela. Again, it’s always individuals.”
During his inaugural address, newly elected president John F. Kennedy boldly challenged the citizens of America to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
I want to do for my country. During college I spent time studying abroad in developing nations. What I learned most from those experiences was just how grateful I am to live in America. To live in a country that truly is, especially by comparison, the land of opportunity. To live in a place were we are free to call out what we think loud and clear, and pray any damn way we want. Or not. I learned just how lucky I am to be free.
That is why after I exercise my privilege of casting my vote, I am not going to wait around for the politicians to solve the Gordian knot they’ve made. Instead, I’m going to continue with what I call my personal grassroots movement. I’m going to keep riding my bike to save gas, and as much as possible shop locally to help keep our small town economy alive. I’ll continue to hang my laundry on the clothesline to save energy, and eat right so I don’t become a burden on the medical system. Most importantly, I’ll keep striving to raise my children to be good people. People who will someday contribute to the greater good of the world through their own personal grassroots movement.
Sure, add this all together and it may not seem like much. You could reason that recycling a few newspapers and cans isn’t going to make a whit of difference. For the longest time, I would have agreed with you. I used to think that to make a significant contribution you had to turn your whole life over to a cause. You had to be a Cesar Chavez or Susan B. Anthony. I thought that only the grand gestures mattered. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to understand the power of the cumulative effect. I’ve begun to see that small acts, over time, add up and become meaningful. As Irish statesman Edmund Burke said long ago, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
My personal grassroots movement is what I am doing to answer JFK’s call, what I am doing for my country. True, my gestures are not as radical as marching on Washington or chaining myself to the fence of a nuclear power plant, but I believe my contributions are important nonetheless. Every vote counts. Every individual action makes a difference. My small acts may be only a few drops on the parched surface of need, but the reality is this: If enough drops fall, if enough people start their own personal grassroots movement, the drought just might end.