There is an eternal conflict in our country between the forces of democracy and minority rights.

There will always be people who want to ban certain activities and argue that they should be able to if most people in their community agree that the activity is reprehensible.

The United States was not founded as a pure democracy, however. Another contradictory American tradition states that individual liberties ought to trump democracy and the government should not make laws that target a minority group, no matter how small and unpopular it may be.

It seems like the common sense allure of majority rule usually triumphs over the philosophical appeal of civil liberty.

For example, as soon as cigarette smokers became a hopelessly outnumbered minority group in the 1990s, the tobacco-free majority began to attack their freedoms.

The process began, as always, by demonizing the minority group. Second hand smoke went from being a harmless nuisance to a public health menace (never mind that second hand smoke doesn’t actually make people seriously ill in truth).

When the propaganda campaign successfully reduced smokers to ill-behaved, second class citizens, it was an easy step to convince people that it is okay to ban smoking from public areas.

The majority exercised its democratic power and put a minority group its place, disregarding the tenants of freedom and tolerance.

Civil libertarians warn that a group that you belong to may become the hated minority of tomorrow, so be careful how much power you give the government to oppress the unpopular minority group of today.

“Milk” tells the uplifting story of a time in American history when an oppressed minority rose up and successfully fought to take back its rights and dignity.

Sean Penn stars as Harvey Milk, a San Francisco small business owner who spearheaded a political and social revolution in the 1970s.

It started at the most humble, grassroots level. When the local business owners association in Milk’s neighborhood rejected him for being gay, he rejected them right back by forming a business association of his own. Pretty soon, the businesses that didn’t meet Milk’s gay-friendly seal of approval were being pushed out of the neighborhood.

Harvey Milk was the unofficial mayor of Castro Street and he had the unions on his side. The next logical step was to run for office. The only problem was: no openly gay man had ever been elected to a major governmental office in United States history. Even the millionaire publisher of the city’s biggest gay newspaper advised against him taking such a bold step.

But Harvey Milk lived to make bold moves. He was elected to the city Board of Supervisors in 1977. Once in office, Milk immediately used his influence to pass a city ordinance that barred discrimination based on sexual preference.

More impressively, he led a state wide campaign to vote down California Proposition 6, an insidious bill that would have legislated the firing of all gay teachers and those “who support them.”

But Harvey Milk wanted a social revolution, not just political victories. He urged gay people everywhere to come out of the closet like him. He argued that the best way for members of a minority group to defend their rights is to make it clear that they are out there and that they are not ashamed of who they are.

“Milk” is a message movie that really makes you think and a political movie that really makes you believe. It is the most uplifting film of 2008.