We hear it all the time, don’t we? What can one person do? The problems are so massive.

Allison Holman wasn’t discouraged by the problem of racism being so massive and intractable. While participating in a Black Lives Matter march two years ago, she had a vision. “I imagined everybody in Forest Park putting their passion into creating something that would be beautiful, that they could display in their yards or their windows that would be a visual representation of how they feel.” 

The problem for Allison was that she was new in town and had no idea how to translate the abstract into the concrete. She decided, however, to not be paralyzed by “what can one person do?” and called the person she knew best, her realtor April Baker.

April likewise didn’t know what to do, but she knew the community, so she and Allison called Lin Beribak of the Arts Alliance. Lin knew how to make art but she didn’t feel confident with the racism aspect of Allison’s vision, so the three of them called Marjorie Adam Clark who co-chairs the Juneteenth Committee in town. 

One call after another was made by residents who, by themselves, were not sure what to do, but the collective result is an event in Reiger Park on May 22 called Signs for Change. The ad hoc coalition still doesn’t have every detail in place, and they’re counting on people who catch the vision to contribute what they can do to make the event a success.

What can one person do?

Pete Seeger tried to answer that question in a folk song he recorded in the early ’60s. 

One man’s hands can’t tear a prison down

Two men’s hands can’t tear a prison down

But if two and two and fifty make a million

We’ll see that day come round

We’ll see that day come round.

“He who is outside the door,” a Dutch proverb says, “has already a good part of his journey behind him.”

I know from my own experience that the question, “What can one person do?” is just an excuse for inaction by people who don’t want to take the risk of trying.

What can one person do?

The answer for most is, “Not much.”

Allison’s story is inspiring for some of us because, to paraphrase Seeger, one woman’s hands couldn’t make an event happen, but when two and two and fifty make a hundred, we’ll see that day come round — on May 22. 

All of us can tell stories of having called out, “I have a vision,” and no one answers the call. Or at least no one at the time.

To get personal, how do you answer the question, “What can you do?”

Maybe some of us are held back by grandiosity, i.e. the heroic myth that what we need are superheroes who have the superpowers to solve super problems. Allison wasn’t afflicted by that inhibition. She planted a seed, not knowing if it would sprout and produce a hundredfold or be eaten by a bird or choked out by weeds.

Take climate change. The problem is so massive and complex, what can one person do?

Two semi-gross examples: Our church runs a retreat center in the Cascade Mountains, miles away from utilities like running water, electricity and sewage treatment. In effect, it’s an ecological experiment. In all of the bathrooms there you will find a little sign that says, “If it’s brown flush it down. If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”

OK, so maybe that’s not your cup of tea — or toilet water.

What can one person do?

Second example: You’ve read about cows belching and farting methane, right? “It turns out,” according to a report from the Sierra Club, “producing half a pound of hamburger for someone’s lunch releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.”

That’s a “whopper” of a statistic, don’t you think? 

What can one person do? 

Buy a McChicken sandwich — beef production emits 4-8 times the emissions of chicken — instead of a Big Mac. And don’t forget to say “no straw” when you give your order. Better yet, order a dish made with tofu from one of our Thai restaurants. Will your action by itself solve the global issue? Of course not, but if two and two and fifty make a million, we’ll see that day come round.

Then when you get home, write a letter to Danny Davis urging him to keep supporting BBB, especially the part about climate change, because the solution to global warming needs policy change as well as individual action.

What can one conservative do in a state run by Democrats, especially since Rauner was not a good role model. Well, do some homework, find the best candidate (who supports battling climate change) and work for him or her.