There’s a sense of liberation in knowing you don’t mean anything. That you, as an individual, are not destined for anything except the simple state of being. The contributions you make can be anonymous, unoriginal, simplistic. But they can still mean something.
A paralegal at the WLC allowed me to sit in on her free legal consultations. Day after day, she sees women suffering from the consequences of the law. Sometimes, the women bring their fates upon themselves. She often cannot do anything to help. She greets her clients with the warmest smile and holds their hands as they cry in her office. She looks into your eyes and appears to understand your story. More times than one would expect, the women have no legal qualms at all. “Give them what they want,” she says. Sometimes a warm palm is more powerful than the Constitution.
She’s a cog.
Sex workers chart dangerous waters. Their profession makes them vulnerable, seemingly inhuman to the systems that seek to protect. Their body, their rights, their identities are subject to the recklessness of law. The firm is putting together a case file, compiling the stories of dozens of women whose rights have been abrogated. Weaving their narratives together, there is hope that they will someday see justice. Strategic litigation is as such: proving a need to change the law through necessity.
Each one of them is a cog.
South Africa has taught me the power of being a part of a whole. There is no ego in helplessness, no I in progress. Grandiosity does not yield change or circumstantial advancement. I am not here to start a movement or launch my own petition for impact. There is a sanctity in understanding that only the little things hold power.
I am a cog.
A whole is more than the sum of its parts. When we speak of progress or a movement, it is consecrated by each contribution that builds up to it. We are each cogs in the machine of change, even in ways we would not expect. But that machine is more powerful than the screws, gears, and wires within it. A listening smile, a tick on the checkbox of a questionnaire, a willingness to work for whatever is needed. It’s not sexy, it won’t win an award, and it most definitely won’t make a LinkedIn profile. But that’s what the mosaic change calls for: small shards of colored glass.