I like to fight.

Not with fisticuffsalthough as a kid I often boxed with my brotherbut for a cause. These days I’m hoisting the torch and pitchfork for restoring our civil liberties. Unfortunately, the issues outnumber the available torches and pitchforks.

We need more fighters, or to put it in less pugilistic terms, activists. This brings us to the winners of the Indy‘s 2007 Citizen Awards, chosen from dozens of public and editorial staff nominations. Regardless of the scope of their causes, the commonalities among the honorees are tenacity, courage and compassion.

Some are demanding sweeping policy changes, such as STOP TORTURE NOW and their battle against the U.S. government’s extraordinary rendition; this, in spite of the Bush administration falsely but intentionally framing anti-war activists as troop-hating terrorists.

Others are trying to improve the lives of the vulnerable and less fortunate. EL FUTURO is in the trenches providing mental-health care to Latinos, regardless of their immigration status. The group must face the rhetoric of anti-immigrant groups, which demeans the humanity of not only their Latino targets but of us all.

For 40-plus years, civil rights attorney and activist AL MCSURELY has fought for equality for African Americans. Yet, even in the 21st century, racism against African Americans is alive and well. Travel a half-hour north and the Ku Klux Klan is busy reloading their hotline with hate speech and threatening to harm area blacks.

And other winners perform vital, and just as important, work in their corners of the world. THE HAW RIVER ASSEMBLY strives to protect our regional waterways, even as corporate interests trump environmental laws, and often craft those very regulations.

The COMMITTEE TO SAVE THE LAKEWOOD Y is intent on preserving a beloved institution and a fragile neighborhood. They prove activism begins at home, in our neighborhoods, house by house. If we can’t fight to improve our most basic building blockthe communitywhere can we begin?

While the Iraq War has reignited the general activist spirit in the United States, there are still far too few people who are civically engaged. And there are often good reasons for the lack of participation. The demands on our timecommuting to work, toiling long hours, caring for children or aging parentsleave little emotional energy for speaking truth to power.

And as activists, it can be difficult to endure the epithets that inevitably accompany acts of conscience.

That’s why activism takes all of us. Don’t be deterred by the work to be done. Contribute a little to a larger cause and the burden is not so great on the whole.

We need more fighters. We need more torches and pitchforks.