‘Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered’

You know, human rights are risky. Equality is risky. Freedom is risky. That is to say, movements to gain or restore or promote those things are risky. Tyrants and exploiters and authoritarians don’t just smile politely and go home – they fight back. Being tyrants and exploiters and authoritarians, they fight dirty. That’s why they’re being fought in the first place. So people who are attempting to promote or gain more equality or rights have to consider the fact that they may be putting other people at risk, because they usually are.

The Civil Rights movement (in the US in the 50s and 60s) had that problem. We tend to forget this now, but it was a huge issue at the time. Plenty of black people in the South were deathly afraid of the whole thing, and with good reason. So there was a moral issue: is it right to put other people in danger in struggling for rights? Is it right to take risks of that kind, risks that are risks to non-participants as well as participants?

There’s no slam-dunk answer to that. There are a lot of ifs. If one knew for certain ahead of time that the struggle for civil rights would trigger a genocide, then the answer would probably be no (or no, not yet). If one thought it very likely that there would be reprisals – some people would still say no, others would say yes, and that’s what happened, and few people (as far as I know, and die-hard racists apart) now think it wasn’t worth it.

Why? Why is it worth it?

Perhaps because, as La Pasionaria said, it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

That’s a very rhetorical slogan, and yet, it’s not just rhetorical. It’s not good to live on your knees. It’s worth some risk in order to bring about a situation in which no people are made to live on their knees.

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