During the credits of last Sunday’s final episode of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” I was surprised to hear “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” sung by Ituana, an artist with whom I was totally unfamiliar. I was instantly transported to the summer of 1969, when, in a dingy bar in Berkeley, Calif., I pumped quarter after quarter into an old jukebox to play the newly released Rolling Stones song.
At the time, I had crossed the country in the hopes of talking to philosopher, Michael Scriven. His book, “Primary Philosophy,” inspired me to immerse myself in the study of philosophy. Dr. Scriven was a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Although I never found him, I did end up visiting People’s Park. The “park” was really just a small strip of land that remained after the university had demolished some buildings but ran out of funds to continue their construction. The “park” was an open, desolate lot. Students banded with locals to spruce up the vacant area with shrubs, trees, flowers and benches. They christened it, “People’s Park.”
California Gov. Ronald Reagan saw this as an opportunity to assert his gubernatorial muscle and ordered the highway patrol and local police to take over the park. The result was a bloody confrontation with many demonstrators wounded and one killed. For many, the park became a symbol of the power of everyday individuals to take action against injustice, irrespective of their chances of success.
It’s been a long time since the bloody protests at “People’s Park” but the efforts of individuals trying to forge a better world have never stopped. Just last week, we lost two such amazing people:
Noreen Fraser was a television producer who, at 46, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Rather than being paralyzed by the depressing news, she decided to do something about it. She started her own foundation in 2006 to fight cancer and organized five national broadcasts entitled “Stand Up to Cancer.” Not only did she raise awareness, but she also galvanized and inspired a whole host of celebrities to join the struggle. Thanks to her efforts, over $100 million was raised for cancer research. Despite her success, she often expressed her impatience with the progress of the research, saying, “I’m frustrated by the pace of new therapies to save my life and other people’s lives.” Ms. Fraser lost her battle against cancer last week but the lessons she taught us of courage and a willingness to take on a seemingly insurmountable foe lives on.
Hans Rosling was a man who had it all. He was a renowned physician, statistician, teacher and speaker. His life was destined to be a life of notoriety and luxury. However, in 1979, he decided to leave that all behind as he relocated his family to Nacala, Mozambique. He was one of two physicians for 300,000 people. He dedicated his life to helping a community ravaged by disease and malnutrition. Dr. Rosling’s name became synonymous with saving lives. Four years ago, he abruptly cancelled all his speaking engagements (his only real source of income), packed his bags, and headed straight to Monrovia, Liberia to meet the Ebola crisis head on. Why would a man who could have lived such a comfortable life risk it all to the save lives of people he didn’t even know? His answer was clear: “I’m in this because once upon a time, I learned what deep poverty was. It wasn’t a number struggling to feed another number. It was a mother trying to feed her child…yet it wasn’t just one woman who was badly off. It was an entire village. It was half of the country. It was 800 million people in the world.” Dr. Rosling helped thousands of people in need. In the end, he couldn’t stop the pancreatic cancer that took his life but his dedication to humanity needs to be celebrated for a long, long time.
We can’t all be Noreen Frasers or Hans Roslings but we can make a difference. We can stand up against the inhumane budget cuts and ill-conceived policies proposed by our president. We don’t need a wall but we do need to dedicate more funds to cancer research. We don’t need to exclude people from our shores because of their religion but we do need to help refugees who are desperately fleeing violent regimes. We don’t need to add billions of dollars to our military budget while cutting Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps or meals on wheels. We must take a stand!
We won’t always win but we have to make the effort for like that song said on that juke box so long ago… “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”