On notions of sacrifice

Jul 4, 2022

Does the way we frame sacrifice in activism make martyrs of those who have the luxury of choice?

Many narratives around sacrifice in global north activism focus on physically putting yourself in positions of vulnerability, risking arrest or bodily harm. These arrest-centric tactics, sometimes framed as a ‘greatest sacrifice’, often lean into martyrdom and individualism.

Having a one-size-fits-all ‘greatest sacrifice’ plays into a very specific set of ideals about how we respond to crisis. It overlooks the importance of variety of tactics, and disregards the differences in lived experiences of marginalised communities.

Sacrifice can be reallocating mental energy to a cause, diverging from an imagined life plan, or ending relationships with others with conflicting ideals. Sacrifice comes in many forms and is inherently personal. Sacrifice is also a deliberate act. It involves an element of choice that many do not have the luxury of having, particularly those peoples and communities most affected by climate injustice.

Strategies that center sacrifice often claim that we are completely f*cked, and must risk everything to save the scraps. These doomist tactics encourage reactionary responses, leading to disempowerment and burnout.

Whilst important to recognise and give space to things that we have sacrificed and lost, we must also focus on the world that we stand to gain. By giving power to that vision through hopeful and resilient community organising, we have a much better chance of seeing that future.