We Can Change the World

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

You’ve likely heard this quote before. Maybe one of your high school teachers had it on a sign hanging in his or her classroom, like some of my teachers. Maybe you read it on a pamphlet handed out by a non-profit organization. Or maybe you studied Margaret Mead at some point.

The reason this quote is so widely used is simple: It’s because it’s true.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my years as an activist – and as a sociologist – it’s that a collective voice is such a strong thing. Now, there are certainly an endless amount of examples where collectives have been negative and led to human rights atrocities. Let’s focus on those “thoughtful, committed citizens” though.

In addition to the above quote, another phrase that I’ve heard over & over is “Amnesty works”. Indeed, it does!

Like so much of life, activism can be daunting. There are endless human rights violations and atrocities; there are countless numbers of people who are imprisoned unjustly; there are horrid government officials, political regimes, and military juntas. It can be difficult to look past these challenges to see how one person sitting down to write a letter can possibly make a difference. It might seem impossible that your voice would be heard, let alone taken seriously.

However, you can make a difference!

The reason that we are able to make a difference is that together, our voice is strong. When a government official’s office is flooded with letters, petitions, e-mails, phone calls and the like, they take notice. They know that the world is paying attention. And they know that whatever move they make next will be noticed as well.

So, the next time you’re asked to sign a petition, don’t just say “no” thinking that one signature more or less won’t make a difference. Find out what the petition is for* and if you agree, sign your name. You might not think that it will make a difference, but it will.

One of the many Amnesty victories I’ve seen is that of Ma Khin Khin Leh of Myanmar. You can read about her release here: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/iar/ma-khin-khin-leh-is-free/

Although the campaign for Ma Khin Khin Leh’s release was successful, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar still remains under house arrest. I encourage you to learn more about her imprisonment, her work as a proponent of democracy in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and to write a letter on her behalf.

Short summary (from Amnesty International): http://www.amnestyusa.org/action/special/ASSK_casesheet.pdf

Case history (from Amnesty International): http://www.amnestyusa.org/action/special/ASSK_Action_Guide.pdf

Sample letter (from Amnesty International): http://www.amnestyusa.org/action/special/ASSK_letter.pdf

Please note that if you wish to send a domestic rather than international letter, there is an additional address listed at the bottom.

Although I mentioned that I’m looking for new volunteering opportunities, I will always lend my support to Amnesty International campaigns. Today, I will be writing a letter on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi. Join me, won’t you? Together we can make a difference, we can change the world!

*Please don’t blindly sign petitions or letters! Take the time to read through what you’re signing to make sure that you agree with the position being taken and actions proposed. If you have questions, don’t be shy! Ask the person collecting signatures to make sure you understand. Some issues are complex and you might need more background than what has been provided in the letter. If that person is unable to answer your question (hey, it happens) find out if there is a website where you can find out more. In most cases, the person will be impressed that you want to educate yourself rather than be upset that you didn’t sign their petition. I speak from experience!


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