What Will You Die For?

“I’m Ready to Die, Tell God I Said Hi”  – Notorious B.I.G.America is known for many things but breeding martyrs isn’t one of them. Sure we have innocent people lose their lives everyday. Good people, be they parents, honor students, teachers. Thing is, they lose their lives by a stray bullet, jealous exes, hit and runs, swine flu. When they die we say, “What a shame” and keep it moving. But how would be respond if those deaths were because they stood up to a gang, drug dealers or dirty politicians?Would we march the streets with a poster of their face and bury them as heroes? Would we celebrate their lives and the sacrifice they made? Have you noticed that Americans don’t throw around the word martyr nearly as much as they should. Not everyone’s life should be in vain.  I guess we are just too damn hard to impress. I do recall folks trying to call Tupac and Biggie martyrs. I wouldn’t go that far. We’ve become accustomed to death but senseless deaths. What about taking a bullet or blowing yourself up for something you believed in? Why aren’t more of us heroes in death?These questions came to me after witnessing the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, an Iranian woman shot down in the street by a sniper’s bullet. If it had not been for the blurry video clip (which has been broadcast all over the world) we wouldn’t have known her name. She would have been just another body in the death toll. Instead there is a massive viral movement springing from her death. It wasn’t her intention to die that day. Yet her death is now the example of just how dire the situations is in Iran. Once you put a face to a blood stain it becomes all the more real.For over a week Iranians have been protesting the outcome of the presidential election. Millions have risked their lives to take to the street and be heard knowing at any moment their government could order they be shot, gassed or arrested.In 2000 many Americans were in arms about the Bush vs. Gore election outcome. Yet we only bothered to protest from the comfort of our living room couches, cursing at the TV screen or with a lower head in disgust as we went to work the next day.When did we move from a country that walked out, went on strike, protested, rioted to silence?Seems like the only Americans still taking it to the streets and dying for what they believe in are gays and lesbians. The rest of us have tuned out, medicated by a world of TV, entertainment gossip and social networking. Oh, and for the record signing a petition online is not protesting! It’s a kind gesture but really you can do better than typing in your name for cause X and hitting submit.Neda’s death for something she believed in got me to thinking of martyrdom and the desperation for change a person must feel in order to lay their life on the line.When I hear the word martyr I think of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Joan of Arc–people whose lives were ended by an outside force because of what they believed in and fought to accomplish.Then you have martyrs who are celebrated for killing themselves and others–the “enemy”–by taking their own life.  Muslim suicide bombers are celebrated in their countries as martyrs fighting in the Jihad. Think of how much faith they must have to strap explosives to their bodies and detonate it with the hopes of being rewarded in the afterlife. I still marvel at Japan’s Kamikaze pilots who said fuck it and just crashed their whole planes into U.S. military ships and aircrafts during World War II when it became clear they were losing the fight.We are faced with social injustices everyday in the U.S. How do you speak out? We march for a couple hours. Call up Al Sharpton and get him riled up. Hold candlelight vigils. Most times we simply do nothing.

The X Fact(her) is a weekly column that appears on 99problems.org. Started on Inauguration Day 2009 by the League of Young Voter’s Education Fund, 99problems.org is a non-profit initiative that aims to keep young people engaged in the political process through activism and community involvement. Please visit 99problems.org to find out how you can get involved right now! For more on Chloé A. Hilliard visitwww.chloehilliard.com

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