What am I doing this for? Is it just so I can feel aloof from an evil I don’t feel like I can affect? Am I hiding in a cave when I should be on the barricades? From TomDispatch, the transcript of a speech by Susan Sontag, from which I’ve excerpted a bit below, looks at the importance of taking a stand even when it doesn’t seem like it will make any difference:
…the bearer of the moral principle seems like someone running alongside a moving train, yelling “Stop! Stop!”
Can the train be stopped? No, it can’t. At least, not now.
Will other people on the train be moved to jump off and join those on the ground? Maybe some will, but most won’t.…
The dramaturgy of “acting on principle” tells us that we don’t have to think about whether acting on principle is expedient, or whether we can count on the eventual success of the actions we have undertaken.
Acting on principle is, we’re told, a good in itself.
But it is still a political act, in the sense that you’re not doing it for yourself. You don’t do it just to be in the right, or to appease your own conscience; much less because you are confident your action will achieve its aim. You resist as an act of solidarity. With communities of the principled and the disobedient: here, elsewhere. In the present. In the future.
Thoreau’s going to prison in for refusing to pay the poll tax in protest against the American war on Mexico hardly stopped the war. But the resonance of that most unpunishing and briefest spell of imprisonment (famously, a single night in jail) has not ceased to inspire principled resistance to injustice and into our new era. The movement in the to shut down the Nevada Test Site, a key location for the nuclear arms race, failed in its goal; the operations of the test site were unaffected by the protests. But it directly inspire the formation of a movement of protesters in far away Alma Ata, who eventually succeeded in shutting down the main Soviet test site in Kazakhstan, citing the Nevada antinuclear activists as their inspiration and expressing solidarity with the Native Americans on whose land the Nevada Test Site had been located.
The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.