Monday, June 4, 2012

Fleas and Sojourner Truth

"Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
-Margaret Mead.

My sweet kitties are home now and they brought with them a lot of fleas. A lot of fleas.  It's not the first time they've had fleas, so I'm sure I'll get the situation under control soon. Today I went to the vet and got some medication that kills all the fleas on the cats almost immediately after they take the pill.  Sure enough, shortly after stuffing the pill down the cats' throats, the fleas seemed to be falling off them, dead or on the way to that state.  I feel the same lack of guilt over killing fleas as I do for killing mosquitoes and cockroaches.  I guess I don't have the same respect for life as Jains or Buddhists, who challenge us to honor all living beings, even mosquitoes, cockroaches, and fleas.   But I don't want to talk about my cats' fleas.  I want to talk about Sojourner Truth's fleas.

In a talk I give to students, I often read a passage from Marian Wright Edelman's The Measure of Our Success.  Let me share it with you:

"My role model, Sojourner Truth, slave woman, could neither read nor write but could not stand slavery and second-class treatment of women.  One day during an anti-slavery speech she was heckled by an old man. 'Old woman, do you think that your talk about slavery does any good? Why I don't care any more for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea.' 'Perhaps not, but the Lord willing, I'll keep you scratching.' she replied.

"A lot of people think they have to be big dogs to make a difference.  That's not true.  You just need to be a flea for justice... Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation."

Normally, I wouldn't be too keen on being compared to a flea, but the way Sojourner Truth and Edelman spin it, I'm proud to call myself a flea.  I want the big dogs to itch just as much as my kitties seem to be itching now.  I want to make the big dogs uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of big dogs out there that need a good flea infestation: corporations, institutions, and governments that seem to be operating with no regard to the well-being of people or the broader world around us.  What saddens me is that some of those dogs, I could probably even say many of those dogs, are going about their business thinking they're doing something good.  Considering all those big dogs and the things they do with tails wagging can be, sometimes is, overwhelming.  How can my bite stop their digging in the wrong places or chewing on the wrong things?  How can my bite stop their misguided barks, snarls, and bites? I don't want my own bite to be ill-placed.  Where will my bite be most effective?   Can I bite more than one dog or do I need to keep my eyes, my body, my presence in one place to be effective?

I don't know the answer to any of the above questions.  I particularly wonder about the last question because I have shifted focus numerous times over the years from U.S. policy in Central America to teaching and volunteering on a local level to teaching and volunteering on an international level to (now...I think) working for justice in Israel and Palestine.  Right now I'm clinging to that last dog, a particularly large dog to be occupying (and I use that word deliberately) such a small place geographically.  I hope to be firmly attached to and biting that big dog for awhile, though I'm not sure exactly how I'll do it.  

Until I figure it out, maybe I can hop from dog to dog, taking a nip here, sinking my teeth in there.  Surely something is better than nothing, right?  I know some of you are hopping and biting along with me.  I hope that others of you will find the big dog(s) that need(s) your attention.  If Sojourner Truth, who lacked the education and resources you and I have, found the big dogs she needed to bite, you and I can, too.

Of course, it's easier to hang with the big dogs.  It's safer, too.  But is it right?  Is it satisfying?  Only you can answer that for yourself...

If you're already part of the flea population, thanks for your work.  I hope the big dogs...or their owners... don't treat you the way I treated the fleas on my cats today.  I know you are taking some risks counting yourselves among the fleas.  Your examples inspire me and energize me to do the same.

If you're not hanging with the fleas, know you're always welcome to grab some fur, latch on to a dog, and start biting.  I think you'll find you're in good company.


  1. Hoping I'm a flea... and how strange is that?


  2. I'd say you definitely are a flea! I hope I am, too. :)

  3. Hi
    Information within your Web Page has prompted us to contact you personally as you appear to have a genuine interest in Sojournertruth.
    For almost two hundred years the full true story of Sojournertruth has not been told.
    It has been suppressed and hidden away within the pages of history.
    The rich and powerful have told their side of her story, leaving Sojournertruth standing alone declaring her understanding of freedom and justice.
    She has amplified her life in her chosen spirit name of Sojournertruth.
    Throughout the world Christians, Afro Americans, men and women have all rejoiced in her triumphs. Isabella Baumfree, or Isabella Van Wageners, as she would later call herself, was searching for a good God fearing life.
    She wanted to embrace the Christian life style, along with helping those who crossed her path.
    While working in New York for the respectable, successful retired business man Mr Elijah Pierson she came face to face with the Prophet Matthias.
    The meeting between Isabella (Sojournertruth) and the self-proclaimed Prophet Matthias was the first contact of what could be considered the refiner’s fire years for Sojournertruth.
    During her time with Prophet Matthias, she experienced immorality, deception, demonic possession, false accusations, and financial ruin!
    She was in many ways spiritually, emotionally, and financially raped time and time again as she struggled to find Christianity within the Zion that Prophet Matthias was attempting to establish!
    Reflecting upon her time in New York City Sojournertruth reasoned and then concluded ‘that everything she had undertaken in the city of New York had finally proved a failure; and where her hopes had been raised the highest, there she felt the failure had been the greatest, and the disappointment most severe.’
    The dramatic experiences of Sojournertruth while in New York were undoubtedly a major turning point in her life. After reflection upon the activities within New York Isabella Van Wageners (Sojournertruth) concluded ‘that she had been taking part in a great drama, which was, in itself, but one great system of robbery and wrong.’
    So what did happen in New York to create such a vivid impression on her?

    The answer can be found at;

  4. Dear Cory,
    Students who are preparing to write end of term essays on Sojournertruth and her New York years may find this FREE eight page informed choices guide of some help and interest. Just click on this link.
    Best regards
    Mike Wilkins Clash of the prophet

  5. I'd say you definitely are a flea! I hope I am, too. Hoping I'm a flea... and how strange is that? Thank you so much for the post. It is really very great.

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