With Only 15 People: How to Get Involved

Founders Park, Johnson City, TN — January 9, 2016

Since the election, I’ve worked through all five stages of grief, which is not as much of an exaggeration as you may think. In fact, I’d say I went through all five stages and then some. And to make matters worse, each stage was cushioned by a sense of utter terror and disbelief. For the most part, the fear has dissipated and I’ve returned to my baseline of happiness. Though something tells me that January 20th is going to feel like another sucker punch to the kidneys.

During the holiday season, I spent a lot of time reading, thinking, and soul-searching. I thought about what I wanted to be in 2017, what I wanted my community to look like, and what I could do to take positive steps toward both. I’m going to be honest, I kept running into a thick, brick wall. It’s overwhelming trying to figure out how to enact change. Do I write letters? Do I volunteer? Do I protest? If I call my representative, what do I say? What should I expect? What is going to make a difference in my community?

Is anything I do going to come close to enough?

There’s a scene in the 2011 documentary Kumaré in which filmmaker Vikram Ghandi — disguised as an Indian guru — takes his disciples to volunteer on a farm. The 15 disciples work hard to remove weeds and unwanted plants from a small, dusty patch of land. They use shovels. They use their hands. They sweat and they bond as they work.

After an hour, Gandhi — as Sri Kumaré — gathers the group and says, “The whole place looks complete[ly] different with only 15 people.”

On Monday night, a group of men and women gathered at a local park in Johnson City, TN to share their hopes for the new year, to talk about how to move forward as a community, and to become a beacon of light during these scary times. It was cold. The crowd was small. Our noses were frozen. Our feet were frigid. The air was icy and the ground was filled with snow and slush. And it was only growing colder as the sun moved further below the horizon and behind the Appalachian mountains.

Founders Park, Johnson City, TN — January 9th, 2016. Photo by Keith Dixon.

Candles were passed around, then a circle formed. And as the flame moved from person to person — projecting a small, warm glow in the cold, blue light of winter—it didn’t take long to notice that the park looked completely different with only 21 people.

Wanting to change the world is overwhelming. But we often forget that real change is usually the result of small moments, small victories, and small acts of kindness or defiance. Sure, organizing a successful million man march or a massive boycott is impressive, but neither invalidate the small things we can do each day to be more involved and more proactive.

So, did the candle light vigil change the world? The simple answer is, yes — in a small, but tangible way, it did.

What you and your friends can do to change the world:

Be informed.

I’ll be the first to admit that being informed is much easier said than done. Even if you know where to get information, if you’re anything like me, doing so is extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking. But 9 times out of 10, knowing what’s going on is a lot less scary than wondering what’s going on. And being informed about politics and about the world is the first step toward being able to go out and fight for the things that matter most.

  • If you have an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, make it a daily habit to ask for your news brief. They tend to last about five minutes and give a pretty good rundown of the day’s news without being overwhelming.
  • I would also recommend signing up for a daily newsletter from a reputable news source. I personally like Foreign Policy’s Morning Brief. ProPublica is also a great resource. Again, these take maybe five minutes to read, but pack a lot of information into their compact format.
  • This one is going to sound a bit crazy, but attend your local city commission meetings. Though they might make your eyes glaze over a bit, it’s a simple way to learn about what’s going on in your own community. It’s also a wonderful way to meet people and to engage with your own government. For those of you in my neck of the woods, you can get information about those meetings here.


Gathering is one of those little things that doesn’t seem like much, but can mean the whole world. Find friends. Make new friends. Talk about the world and about your frustrations. Talk about your hopes and your challenges. This type of camaraderie feels good, but it also serves a very important purpose; talking and bouncing ideas off of other people is a good way to help form nebulous thoughts into concrete, actionable ideas.

It works even better if you can find people who aren’t like you. Look for interfaith groups in your town and attend an event or two. If you’re a Christian, visit a Mosque and vice versa. If you’re an avid meat-lover, attend a vegan meetup or meal. The list goes on. Challenge your viewpoint. If you do this, one of two things will happen: either your ideas and beliefs will change or they’ll become more clear and well-defined. Either way, you win.


Volunteering, like gathering, is a fabulous way to make a change in your own community, while also connecting with people who share your interests. Remember the dusty patch of land? Or the icy park? It doesn’t take long (or much) to make a visible difference in the world. Even one person, volunteering for just one hour can make a dent.

Are you nervous or shy? Sign-up and volunteer with friends. If you’re in my area, here are just a few places you might consider:

Look for something that not only fits your skills, but your interests. It’s much easier to really get involved in the causes that matter to you, if you’re already plugged into that community, even on a small scale. Though you may start out by cleaning kennels at your local animal shelter, you might soon be fundraising or advocating for stricter animal cruelty laws in front of your state legislature. In other words, all Redwoods started with a seed.

Though frequently misattributed to Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” is not bad advice. But when you see this inspirational quote as it’s passed around Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I challenge you to remember Vikram Ghandi’s quote:

“The whole place looks complete[ly] different with only 15 people.”