But the story of Thomas Clarkson proves me wrong.
I read about Clarkson in Adam Hochshild’s Bury the Chains, an excellent book of the history of the abolitionist movement in England.
Hochshild gives high praise for the role that Clarkson played in the abolition movement, saying that it was when Clarkson decided to become involved was the “single moment at which the anitslavery movement became inevitable.”
How did he get involved?
He learned about the injustice of slavery.
He was competing in a prestigious Latin essay contest, and the more he researched slavery, the more the injustice of the situation weighed on him. It “wholly engrossed [his] thoughts,” and he abandoned his plans to become an Anglican clergyman and instead devoted himself to abolishing the slave trade.
I think we focus too much on raising awareness and too little on promoting action, and I seriously doubt the activist refrain that “if they only knew…” then they certainly would take action (whoever “they” are).
Thomas Clarkson shows that sometimes when people learn about an issue, then they do take action.
And sometimes, the impacts of this consciousness raising ring through the history books.