A small group can change the world

A small group can change the world

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has"

I’ve been reflecting on this famous though underrated quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead in regard to recent events, including the General Election.

One of the weaknesses in our embryonic democracy is that we seek to elect people to represent us but often let them get on with it until we are called to express our choices at the next round of voting. Most of us do not seem to engage with politicians for much of the time and effectively do not take our own responsibilities seriously in campaigning for a more just, participatory and sustainable society. That is why the forthcoming Climate Lobby of Parliament (17th June) is so important – keeping key issues of concern before the decision makers lest they become complacent with the power we have just given them!

Historically, positive change has happened when small groups of people (campaigners, scientists, citizens, minorities, workers, etc.) have drawn attention to unfair or oppressive practice – from the evils of slavery to dangerous working conditions, from the consequences of smoking to the walls of Apartheid, from the systematic destruction of rain forests to the emancipation of women – and then campaigned to those responsible to enshrine positive change in law.

Governments eventually have to introduce legislation to implement creative transition and human progress but the seeds for their growth are to be found in people’s movements large and small across the planet. The environmental movement, micro-finance schemes, empowerment of excluded groups, complimentary health work, reforestation, community agriculture are but a few examples of where people have led, only for governments to follow later…

It is the passion and drive of local people which brings about change and we must remember this when confronted by political dinosaurs and multi-national giants. We might recall the old African proverb, 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together…’ 

The other recent event has been the season of Whitsun or Pentecost which marks the rebirth of a reform movement in the face of death and defeat. The liberating work encouraged by Jesus from Nazareth is revitalised with new verve and energy, and its focus is initially on a small group of committed followers in the Way. Pentecost coincides with the Jewish days of Shavuot which see a recommitment to the Mosaic tradition expressed in what we call ‘The Ten Commandments’.

But the Whitsun message is that this radical remake of human rights, in which respect and love are paramount, is applicable not only to the Children of Israel to the whole world. The dangers of getting our priorities incorrect applies to all languages, all people and all places. This new order is beyond the old boundaries of place and time, beyond death and beyond belief.

In applying these insights to the ecological pressures of our time, we are always called to live together and to live differently, to cast off possessions, to share goods in common and to recreate communities of hope. It is in action that we demonstrate purposeful change in the expectation that eventually politicians will have no choice but to develop policies away from short term greed and towards the benefit of all with an alternative outlook for the Earth…

Martyn Goss