As a high school student, I came across an observation by Abraham Lincoln who said that “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” Today “public sentiment” would be called “public opinion.”
Over the years, I have been astonished at how less than one percent of the citizenry, backed by the “public sentiment,” have changed our country for the better by enacting reforms to protect the people from abuses of power, discrimination and deep neglect.
Specifically, if – one percent or less – were to dedicate a modest amount of their time and money working together for much-needed changes that are overwhelmingly supported by public opinion in each congressional or state legislative district, they would prevail against the government and corporate power structures.
There are obstacles, such as a corporate influence over City Hall and wavering politicians who insincerely pledge support, but defer and delay action. But, if people work together, almost any problem can be solved.
History shows that it only takes a dedicated few to gain the momentum from many more to enact change. The major drives to give women the right to vote, workers the right to form unions and secure numerous protections, and farmers regulation of railroads and banks did not require more than one percent of seriously active champions. Those in power understood that there was overwhelming support for these reforms by affected populations.
Even the abolition movement against slavery was well under way in our country before Ft. Sumter and did not involve more than one percent of the people, including the slaves who fled via the Underground Railroad. By 1833, the British Empire, including Canada, had already brought slavery to an end.
More recently, the breakthrough laws in the late sixties and early seventies regarding auto and product safety, environmental health and occupational safety drew on far less than one percent of seriously engaged supporters. The air and water pollution laws were supported by widespread demonstrations that did not require a large burden of time by the participants. These air and water pollution laws, not surprisingly, were very popular when introduced and the public made its support known to lawmakers with numerous phone calls and letters. Other reforms (auto safety, product safety and occupational safety measures) were pushed through with far less than one percent of engaged citizens, as was the critical Freedom of Information Act of 1974.