“You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Last weekend, I was in San Francisco representing Not For Sale at a documentary screening on sex trafficking. The public turnout was nowhere near the size I had been anticipating, so by the end of the evening, I had spoken to only a handful of people about modern-day slavery and NFS’s role in mitigating this injustice. When my co-worker, Jerry, and I got into the car at the end of the evening, we felt a bit discouraged. We were already exhausted from spending hours trying to navigate ourselves around San Francisco (without a GPS) after a full week of work; and now, we were questioning if our efforts, time, and mileage had been worth it.
I’ve had enough experience working at nonprofits to be aware of the incessant struggles that inevitably arise with this line of work. Even just maintaining a nonprofit can be a daily battle, but Not for Sale ambitiously goes one step further and aims even higher: ensuring we not only manage our current projects, but grow and develop them. So naturally, as we continue to raise the bar, we also further expose ourselves to greater risks and challenges.
One such challenge as a nonprofit organization goes beyond merely recruiting people to join the movement, but trying to find effective ways to keep them engaged. I’ve yet to meet a person who wasn’t appalled by the fact that slavery still exists. But it’s far more rare to meet someone who is deeply committed to ameliorating this injustice. At the San Francisco event last weekend, I noticed a common pattern among people who feel a fiery passion once they initially learn about the prevalence of human trafficking, but over time, this passion is extinguished by daily routine, feelings of helplessness—and eventually, apathy.
How do we communicate to the public that we all can have a sustainable role in the abolitionist movement? How do we get them to believe that? And how can we incubate their enthusiasm and commitment so that they don’t eventually lose interest in actively participating in the movement?
I’ve learned that disengagement sometimes stems from a place of discouragement in not always seeing immediate change. For myself, this is a huge struggle in anything I do. Productivity is of vital importance to me, so not being able to see the fruits of my labour at the end of the day can be a source of frustration. Yet when our goal is to see the total abolition of modern-day slavery, we must remind ourselves to rejoice in the small victories that we do see, and remember that not having instant or quantifiable results does not necessarily equate with failure.
But change needs to start somewhere. As Gandhi once poignantly stated: “You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” Some of the greatest achievements for justice were a result of a regular person who merely set out to do what he or she thought was right. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus, which led to significant changes in legislation. Laura Secord trekked 32 km by foot to warn British soldiers of an impending military attack. Martin Luther King Jr. was an ordinary clergyman from Georgia, who inspired an entire race of people to be active participants in a nonviolent campaign for racial justice. Twenty-two-year-old Terry Fox had his right leg amputated due to cancer and began running a marathon a day across Canada to raise money for cancer research.
Not all of these people lived to see how their actions revolutionized the world. Perhaps internationally-recognized change was not even their goal. Regardless, these activists still selflessly pursued justice – even without the guarantee that their efforts would make any amount of difference.
No, I didn’t recruit hundreds of people to join Not For Sale’s mission by tabling at a human trafficking awareness event. But seeds were planted, even if it was only with a small number of people. There is no assurance in knowing they’ll become forever engaged in the abolitionist movement, but at least I did what was within my power to ensure they walked away from the NFS table feeling empowered and called to act.
In retrospect, I realized it is always ‘worth it’ when justice is the goal. No effort made for the movement is ever wasted.