With the election finally upon us after such an ugly and exhausting campaign, I’m sure hoping that each and every eligible American citizen will be involved in the democratic process this go-round. After being subjected to relentless vitriol and finger pointing it’s about time we had the chance to voice our own opinion on the matter.
But when thinking about how change usually comes about, there’s more than a kernel of truth to the adage that 90 percent of the work usually gets done by 10 percent of the people. Or, as Margaret Mead so eloquently put it, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I recently heard Fred Kirschenmann (of the Aldo Leopold Center at Iowa State as well as the Stone Barns Center) give a talk about sustainable agriculture and he made a couple of points that left me feeling much more optimistic than I often do after other presentations on the subject that are usually heavy on the problems with our food system and light on concrete solutions that have staying power or replicability.
In response to a question that I posed about how public health practitioners should react to agribusinesses that speak out of both sides of their mouths and simultaneously give money to public health campaigns and, say, initiatives to combat a soda tax on an upcoming ballot, Dr. Kirschenmann shared an anecdote about a class project that one of his Iowa State colleagues assigns in her course every year. Students in the class are required to visit area supermarkets and request that the store stock a specific item. Consistently they discover that it only takes 15 people requesting an item for it to appear on shelves.
Pretty powerful, no?
His closing remarks were in a similar vein: only roughly one-quarter to one-third of the colonists were in favor of the American Revolution. The remaining colonists were either opposed or simply neutral to the idea. I mean… I probably would have fallen into that second camp. Things can be comfortable (or hard!) enough, and inertia is a real force to be reckoned with. I’m kind of in awe to think that a minority of colonists not only had a conviction about the need to assert our independence, but the wherewithal to galvanize their neighbors, their friends, and their family into action.
So, as far as tomorrow is concerned: perform your civic duty and vote. But stay heartened that dedicated people can effect some pretty serious change for the better.