The Power Of One Person

In case you missed it, the March For Science is taking place today.  Thousands have gathered on the National Mall, tens of thousands in other cities across the country and around the world.  Some came to protest the President’s policies, others to demonstrate in favor of science.  Each goal is laudable; protests are a vital portion of the societal dialogue, and positive demonstrations are if anything more valuable because they are so rare.

And yet, I’m not marching.

But why not?  Is the use of science in forming policy not a cause worth marching for?  Quite the contrary; I’m confident that it is.  More, I’m confident that, just like many other politicians, President Trump prioritizes practical politics over the conclusions of experts in their fields; in particular, his actions and appointments since taking office show an almost startling lack of respect toward environmental science in particular.  Both the positive and negative aspects of this appeal to me.

Some would say that the presence of one person more or less at any given demonstration would be meaningless, that any single voice will be lost, unheard among the millions.  Again, I would argue the contrary, and most fervently; the greatest lie told to us today is that one person standing alone can do nothing.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

We have all seen the impact one person can have.  In 1963, one Buddhist monk setting himself on fire began a series of events that brought down the government of South Vietnam.  In the Crimea, one woman’s devotion to nursing and nurse training began a movement toward the professionalization of nursing — and, incidentally, statistical graphing.  Among the Efik of Nigeria, twins were killed on birth until the forceful personality of one missionary ended the practice.  Every time we take a flight, we remember — and curse — the Shoe Bomber.

Some of these achievements were great; some were minor.  Some had little individual impact long-term, and in every single case I named there was more than one person involved — but also in every instance the change hinged on the will of that one.  One person started a movement; one person altered history; one person changed the world.

But that’s not what we remember.

We remember Ross Perot and Ralph Nader and Gary Johnson, failed third-party candidates who made fools of themselves in public trying and failing to change the world.  Martin Luther King, the Kennedy brothers, Malcolm X — all agents of change, all shot.  And who doesn’t remember the Unknown Protestor, a student who blocked Chinese tanks from advancing into Tienanmen Square to put down protests — until the lead tank ran him down?

We remember those who tried and failed to change the world.  We remember all those who made promises of change they couldn’t keep; how could we forget, when every politician we elect seems to do exactly that?

What we forget is that all the change that happens in this world is the result of the actions of individual people.  Change isn’t the result of folks that stay quiet, keep their heads down, do their jobs, and hope for the best.  Instead, it’s always those with the courage to stand up and take action, to speak out, to protest.

Now — after having said all this, why am I not marching today?  If the contribution of one person can be so vital, why am I not adding myself to the numbers demonstrating for a cause that’s so universal it should draw all of us?

Because what I do is, I write.

Which is what I’m doing.  Today, on Earth Day, the day of the Science March, I’m writing to you, to let you know that you have the power to change the world.

With great power comes great responsibility.  You must use that power, and use it wisely, in the cause of good.  If you can’t be Nightingale, be one of her nurses, or at least fold bandages.  If you support science, it may be too late to march today — but you can speak in favor to your friends or on social media.

But even if all you do is share this post — do something.  Because otherwise, you truly are powerless, and have no one to blame but yourself.

(Just… please, don’t light yourself on fire.)

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