Is there such a thing — an ideal for which I am prepared to die? Maybe not. Maybe I lack the courage. Maybe I feel I have too much to lose and not enough to gain. Maybe I think it’s a lost cause.
Injustice has been on my mind a lot lately now that injustice, cruelty, and racism are once again ascendant, this time under the presidency of Donald J. Trump and other similar autocrats around the world. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of injustice. It’s easy to feel devoid of courage — a coward, if you will. No one likes to feel like a coward.
Looking back through history, it’s clear change for justice and truth often, if not always, comes from the hard, sacrificial work of courageous people — people who were willing to sacrifice their freedom and livelihoods and, sometimes, even their lives. Truly courageous people.
Last week I listened to Nelson Mandela’s remarks to the court when he was being put on trail during white South Africa’s attempt to quell the equal rights movement and preserve apartheid and white supremacy. Here is a portion of his remarks, Vera. It will be well worth your time listening to them someday. He closes by saying, “It is an ideal, for which I am prepared to die.” “It” is the freedom and equality of his people — Africans (people of dark skin) who were being subjugated and oppressed in their own land.
No education in justice can be complete without also reading the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in what has become known as his Letter from Birmingham Jail. You can find it here. It’s a letter that should be taught in every church in America, but, of course, it isn’t. The fight is not over.
One of my favorite bloggers, Yves Smith, recently wrote:
One of the reasons protests in America wind up being futile is that there are few people who feel they can make the sacrifices that are inherent in confronting power and risking losing. While the example of Gandhi brings up large scale protests, where participants risk being beaten and imprisoned, individuals can protest in other ways, for instance, by whistleblowing.
Many people feel they cannot take the downside of an arrest, since in our surveillance state, it will probably show up in a background check, thus damaging one’s employment prospects in an already difficult job market. As many readers have pointed out, quiet desperation has reduced the number of people who are willing to make sacrifices. And for those who have children or aging parents, the certain damage they’d suffer by losing someone essential to their care almost certainly looks like a very high cost relative to what might be gained via political opposition.
Yves posits that, “for protest to be successful, there needs to be a core group that is prepared to make considerable sacrifices, including risking death.”
Perhaps things are not bad enough yet. Or perhaps we simply don’t care enough about each other. Or perhaps we simply don’t have an ideal important enough to justify sacrifice. Or, for that matter, major inconvenience.
My best guess is that it’s a little of everything, but perhaps I’m merely projecting my own apathy, rationalizations, and fears.
In any case, it’s good to ponder the alternatives. And the fight that historical figures waged on our behalf. It’s good to become acquainted with Mandela, King, Gandhi, Jesus, and the myriad of other nameless freedom-fighters who sacrificed so much for people they didn’t even know. For future generations. For humanity.
Perhaps when we ponder and contemplate their heroism we will keep their dream alive, even if we presently lack the courage and motivation to continue the fight, for, someday, the fight may come to us. And then we shall be forced to declare our allegiance. And to stand with either those who are willing to die for an ideal of a just world, or with those who merely desire to dominate and subjugate. And take.
Always prepare. For one day we may have to decide.