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Third place winner Anh Le Shaker High School

Not Alone, but Together

“You’re only one person, you know.”

Yes, I do know that – I am only one. I cannot inhabit two bodies at once. Though I fight with the passion of many, I only possess one heart. It encompasses the silent “thank you” uttered, as I quietly rush tissues to the brave Muslim girl in my class for speaking up about Charlie Hebdo. My heart is full of happiness and empathy, as I fold a paper crane for the lonely old man in the hospital. And yet, it also pumps anger through my veins, pounding to the cries of Ferguson and the deaths of transgender teens everywhere.

As for my brain, for all the knowledge and news that it can absorb, it is only one. My mind takes me far and wide, learning about different cultures and how to respect them, and it eagerly analyzes the reasons for social injustice. By themselves, my heart and my brain would just be pathetic piles of cells. But together, my heart pumps the blood of life throughout me and fuels my brain. Together, my heart gives me the passion to fight, and my mind provides the battle plan. Together – my heart, brain, and I – we take action for what we believe in.

You sigh, and shake your head. “You can’t do everything. What do you expect to do by yourself?” you ask.

And I say, “Nothing spectacular.”

It’s true. Winning the war against sexism and racism, when it has been so deeply ingrained in our society? When women cannot walk down a street without fear? When black people are being killed unjustly by police every day? When transgender people feel compelled to take their lives, because they see no other choice? It is an infinitesimal possibility to defeat everything, if I am by myself.

Alone, I might be able to explain to a few friends the history behind certain racial slurs against black people and Romani people, for example. But alone, I do not have the knowledge, fame, or oratory powers to sway world leaders with my words. To a few understanding people, or even to not-so-understanding people, I am willing to call people out on their racist comments against minorities. But I cannot educate every person about white privilege, nor can I convince everyone to believe me, either – at least not alone.

But I am not alone. “You see,” I say, “I may be just a person, but an army is just a large group, made up of individual people. And a war is not won in just one battle.”

Indeed, the fight would not be the same without one person or the other, for each person has something unique to bring to the table. There is strength to be had in numbers, and when we work together, we can all dedicate our efforts. I believe that the individual battles that we fight contribute to the overall effort. For example, even a small explanation of marginalized sexualities, like asexuality and pansexuality, equips more people with knowledge that they can use to help others. The more people that are aware, the stronger that the LGBTQ movement grows. When Eric Garner died in New York City, one person’s shouts turned into a chorus demanding for change, as they lied “dead” in the streets and marched for justice. In conjunction with Ferguson’s movement, awareness and anger for police brutality spread. War started. With it came change, in the form of legislation – all of this starting from one battle.

Just like our body parts, we are more efficient together. Together, we are doing something, as opposed to doing nothing against the oppressive structures that society has built up. I am doing something. Inaction is taking the side of the oppressors, for it does nothing to curb their powers. So when you tell me, “You can’t do everything,” this is what I have to say to you. I may not be able to take on the world, but as long as I am able to take action, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.