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