I received some very encouraging messages addressed to the friend complaining to me yesterday we were too few in Valletta. I’ve picked out two of them that seek to benefit from history or from experience.
This first is from a letter Victor Hugo wrote in exile. The reference to 7.5 millions is to the suffrage that would make Louis Bonaparte, Emperor Napoleon III in 1851.
Whenever you feel outnumbered, remember that right and wrong are not a popularity contest.
You are a captain of artillery at Berne, Monsieur Louis Bonaparte; you have necessarily a smattering of algebra and geometry. Here are certain axioms of which you have, probably, some idea.
Two and two make four.
Between two given points, the straight line is the shortest way.
A part is less than the whole.
Now, cause seven million five hundred thousand voters to declare that two and two make five, that the straight line is the longest way, that the whole is less than a part; cause eight millions, ten millions, a hundred millions of voters so to declare, and you will not have advanced a single step.
Well—you will be surprised to hear it—there are axioms in probity, in honesty, in justice, as there are axioms in geometry; and moral truth is no more at the mercy of a vote than is algebraic truth.
The notion of good and evil is insoluble by universal suffrage. It is not given to a ballot to make the false true, or injustice just. Human conscience is not to be put to the vote.
Now, do you understand?
Look at that lamp, that little obscure light, unnoticed, forgotten in a corner, lost in the darkness. Look at it, admire it. It is hardly visible; it burns in solitude. Make seven million five hundred thousand mouths breathe upon it at once, and you will not extinguish it. You will not even cause the flame to flicker. Cause a hurricane to blow; the flame will continue to ascend, straight and pure, towards Heaven.
That lamp is Conscience.
That flame is the flame which illumines, in the night of exile, the paper on which I now write.
And here’s another one from Katrin on how it is the cause, not the number that matters:
When we were living in Germany, in our quiet residential street in a village close to Bonn, a neighbour decided to erect a mobile phone antenna on his residence. It was a huge installation, on an hillside villa of a greedy but bankrupt resident. The outcry against the antenna among the neighbours was huge.
But, being a sparsely populated hillside, we were few. We all pooled in our various resources – time, money, know-how and a grit to fight. We collected signatures to present them at the local council so that the item is put on the agenda, blocked the street with a parked car so that a crane couldn’t pass (but within the law) and raised hell with the local press.
The police came during the street blocking and found that the car, albeit in the way for the crane, was parked correctly and hence could not be towed. We informed the press, the press came and we staged a demonstration, which duly featured in the regional newspapers. We met weekly to discuss the next steps. We had a website and made our fight public. We went on the radio. And we had a slim chance to win at court because of irregularities (the mobile phone lobby in Germany is very powerful).
A neighbour said, if we don’t fight this, we lost already. It was a slim chance, we took it and we lost.
So what? We fought. We didn’t go quietly into the night and accepted the monstrosity as a fait accompli. We raised awareness, met wonderful people who supported our cause and formed new bonds. We got the respect from the local council, we became a small force to be reckoned with. Many people admired what we did. Many more couldn’t be bothered, the aerial wasn’t in their backyard after all and not depreciating the value of their properties.
How many were we? Eight people.
How many were at the demonstration? Five. All holding placards.
A year after our lost court case, the local council decided to renew our street and asked for a hefty sum from the residents. We fought again, this time we were a few more people, but the core group that did the work consisted again of only nine people. This time we won.
It’s not the numbers that count. It’s what you do and how you use your resources and abilities.