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The Paradox of Inconsequence: Why social activism matters

Our daily lives consist of a series of small acts and decisions, each seemingly “inconsequential.”  We forget that bag in the back of the car when walking into the supermarket and feel too lazy or rushed to go back for it.  One or two plastics bags won’t tip the environmental balance.  We do not say anything when someone makes racist comments or tells a joke that denigrates women, immigrants or people with different abilities.  After all, people don’t change so why bother?  We do not get around to writing that letter to our Congressman or we do not feel like marches and protests are “our thing.”  My voice, my feet won’t move the political mountain or social agenda.

Many are persevering in their various acts of civic, social and moral responsibility: Signing petitions, attending demonstrations, writing or calling their Congressmen, and sharing information and experiences through electronic means.  Yet many others do not see how any of this really makes a difference.  To summarize:  It makes a difference. Social activism always makes a difference!

The EIL Office has delivered countless workshops and trainings on leadership for social change; solidarity; and taught courses on the history of social movements.  We have done this with young adults, day laborers, non-profits, and educators.   The JPIC Office has convened and coordinated groups to learn about environmental issues and conflict resolution; to encourage people to march wherever they live; and to pray because we must be, above all else, people of hope, courage and confidence.  The Conference Center has opened its doors to groups that come to DC to march or to lobby on the Hill, including a group of indigenous peoples from throughout Latin America coming in March.  CEDC works with organizations in their efforts to get the message out through digital and print formats.  The Ministry Office supports Religious of the Sacred Heart in their pursuit to live out our mission of love and service to the most vulnerable in society.  The Finance and Operations office helps to model stewardship of resources and to ensure that the Stuart Center’s services and facilities are accessible to all who share our commitment to social justice.   We all have something to offer from where we sit.

Ours is not a perfect work, but it is an earnest and consistent one.  The Stuart Center has as its core values:  Justice, education, empowerment and partnership.  Sometimes the act we perform inspires another to act. The voice we raise empowers another to speak up. That is the paradox of inconsequence. There are no inconsequential acts of civic, social and moral responsibility.  History reminds us of that over and over again. 

No single action performed or lone voice raised may feel like it makes a difference in Washington or on the Border; however, it is important not to underestimate the power of a small group or of one voice.  Margaret Mead said it in 1964 in her fullest exploration of the place of small groups in cultural change and innovation in her book, Continuities of Cultural Evolution: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.  Malala said it approximately 50 years later in 2013 in her address to the U.N.:  One child, one teacher one book and one pen can change the world.  The power of one-by-one-by-one...

Here’s the take-away:  If your action or voice inspires change in the heart of another person, and this person begins to act, to advocate, to engage…well, therein lies the capacity for the big changes.  Have hope, courage and confidence, and know that your one voice carries the echoes of hundreds or thousands of others.  Know that a single act may inspire even one other person who inspires another and so on.  The drops of water do not know themselves as an ocean, but the power it bears to bring the tides of change is unquestionable.   


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