How do you effect change, change that's big, change that's lasting? Can you, can one person, have that kind of impact? I remember arguing adamantly with my grandfather nearly 24 years ago that one person can change the world. We argued back and forth for a good long while, my grandfather getting more agitated but also more resolute that one person couldn't make any difference at all. "Jesus Christ!" I yelled at him, frustrated but not taking the Lord's name in vain. One man made all the difference. One man's followers changed the world. My grandfather wasn't having any of it. Lincoln. Surely, he would concede that Lincoln freeing the slaves, waging the civil war made a difference? John Wilkes Booth made a difference, as well, changed the course of the nation, possibly. My grandfather was unyielding, unrelenting and increasingly hostile.
In hindsight, from the perspective of a middle-aged woman, I understand a lot more about where my grandfather was coming from that summer. I doubt that he waged that argument because he really didn't believe one person couldn't make a difference, but because he was mad, mad at his body and his heart for failing him, mad that a 20 year old girl was dispatched to stay with them, mad at everything. And scared, I think, maybe that gruff old bastard who always wore a black cowboy hat was scared. Scared for my grandmother, scared of dying. He lived another 10 months, dying the next May, a few days before I was supposed to fly back home to visit my family, pregnant with my first child, a child he had angrily insisted the prior summer he'd never live to see. At the time, I thought he said it out of spite and anger, and now I see he said it out of frustration and recognition that he was dying.
Ever since that summer, the idea of change, and of one person making big changes, has always been entwined with my grandfather's heated words and his disdain for the idea of one person making a difference. Wrapped together, these twin ideas of the importance of trying to effect change while faced with one's own relative impotence in effecting massive, long-lasting change have traveled with me my entire adult life, whispering to me, sometimes spurring me to action in an attempt to prove my grandfather wrong, and at other times perhaps tempering my actions, making me cautious and reluctant.
Change. Sometimes, even when it seems improbable, we have to simply reach down deep and find the courage to be the change we want in the world, even if it means we are the lone person standing up. If we're lucky, others will see, will care, and will join us to be that change.
Other times, we are forced to simply plod along, doing our part, whether it effects the wider world or not, having faith that our efforts matter at some level, even if it is only for the sake of our own integrity.
People have been speaking out against the Judge Rotenberg Center for decades. Investigations have come and gone and slowly, changes are being made. New residents can no longer receive skin shocks. They can still be restrained, though, and other aversives used, and given the number of abuse stories coming out of that institution, abuses still undoubtedly occur. And let us not forget that residents who've been there awhile can still be shocked. That some have been shocked for decades.
Gregory Miller, a former employee of the JRC, decided to be the one. Decided to stand, to share the horror stories, to create a petition, that at present has over 218,000 signatures, calling for the JRC to cease all skin shocks. One person, who does not stand alone, who does not fight silently, a still, small voice.
We have an ethical and moral obligation to the most vulnerable, and who is more vulnerable to abuse than the out-of-control, violent mentally disabled? Too dangerous for any other place, these 200 plus individuals are shipped in to the JRC from out of state to be warehoused in relative opulence all while being subjected to shocks without warning, to restraints that may last for hours. 218,000 people cared enough to take a minute and sign a petition asking the JRC to stop the skin shocks.
All it takes is for one person to stand up and say no for others to get involved. It always starts with one person. On that, I'd like to think my grandfather would have agreed.