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12.14.04

The Courage to Risk Everything

By Kim Knox

Freedom is never given; it is won.
ó A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)
 
The results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are rigged. Do not believe them. Our president is Yushchenko. I am very disappointed by the fact that I had to interpret lies. I will not do it any more. I don't know if you will see me again.
ó Natalia Dmitruk, Sign Language Presenter, Ukrainian TV Channel UT-1

As reported by Mosnews, the Ukrainian news anchors faithfully announced the presidential election results, saying that Viktor Yanukovich, the candidate supported by the current Ukrainian president and the Russian president, would be the new Ukrainian president.

Except for Natalia Dmitruk. After the broadcast, Dmitruk joined Yushchenko's supporters who had taken to the street, a quarter of a million strong, to protest the voter fraud in Kiev. And her announcement gave the other news anchors the courage to report the truth about Yushchenkoís election.

With her courageous action and the uprising in the streets, Ukraine's highest court threw out the tainted election and ordered a runoff between Yushchenko and Yanukovich on December 26.

But sometimes, civil protest does not result in a peaceful change.

An example appears in the book "Arc of Justice" by Kevin Boyle (Henry Holt, 2004). The book details the struggle of the physician Ossian Sweet and his wife Gladys when they bought a bungalow in the white portion of Detroit in 1925. When a mob attacked his home, he defended the house with a group of black men, including his brothers. The ensuing events left one white man dead. Both Dr. and Mrs. Sweet were jailed; they and some of the others were charged with the crime. The NAACP became aware of the case and came to their defense, launching the Legal Defense Fund and eventually winning the trial. But while she was in jail, Mrs. Sweet contracted tuberculosis ó and then gave it to their only surviving child, Ivah. Both Ivah and Mrs. Sweet died a few years after the incident.

Dr. Sweet continued to live in the bungalow. Beaten down by two subsequent failed marriages, a failing practice, and failing health, he committed suicide in 1960.

Nevertheless, the NAACP continued its Legal Defense Fund. And it fought against Jim Crow laws in both the North and the South. Other heroes came ó Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Alex Pitcher, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Wright Edelman, and others. Even though Dr. Sweet lost all that he held dear in his fight against segregation, his efforts created a momentum and finally, a movement.

The question is, when do you engage in civil disobedience? When do you risk everything for the greater good?

When you canít stand to look at yourself in the mirror if you donít do something.

When you canít respect yourself if you donít call out.

When you wake in the middle of the night and pray for the courage to speak.

There are no guarantees that your protest will work and youíll be seen as the hero.

In fact, your voice may never be heard at all.

But you never know if you donít try.