Participating in politics or in a social movement can involve sacrifice. Some sacrifices are very modest, such as taking time out to vote or contributing a small amount of money to a cause or organization. But some people devote their lives to causes, at high personal cost, and many have died in political struggles.
Danielle Allen (2004) argues that sacrifice is intrinsic to democracy, because some win and others lose with each decision, and those who lose give up something by continuing to participate. Yet levels of sacrifice are often unequal. Preserving and enhancing a democracy requires intentional concern for those who have sacrificed.
Social movement leaders typically call on people to sacrifice. Sometimes, they present sacrifice as honorable or even fulfilling, and that can be valid. People can be proud of, and derive psychological benefits from, their own sacrifices. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “there is nothing more majestic that the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity.”
Social movements also characteristically honor their own members who have sacrificed, especially those who have died in the cause, and these celebrations can become important opportunities for protest.
However, the cost and the damage can be too high and the demand to sacrifice can be unreasonable.