Today, the U.S. celebrates the 238th anniversary of its independence. As many celebrate with great food, fellowship and fireworks, how many of will stop to reflect on the significance of this day? In our nation, independence signifies freedom from oppressive regimes and ideas in terms of religion, expression, and governance. Soldiers fought long and hard to guarantee the freedom of our nation’s families for generations. And to know that this is what we are appreciating on this day is a wonderful thing because it proves that deep in the veins of our nation’s existence runs a thread of justice and commitment to freedom.
Yet it is odd and incredibly ironic that a nation that has fought so hard for its own freedom, does not easily offer freedom to its own citizens or undocumented residents. In our nation, there are constituencies and communities that are so oppressed that they can barely recognize the principles of freedom that we fought so hard to attain. In our nation, we hold captive the poor, people of color, immigrants, women and a host of others. We put up barriers which deny many of these individuals, the ability to work, to earn a living, to provide for their family, to feel safe, and in the most extreme cases, even to live. Our laws are set up to ostracize those who do not fit into society’s notions of who belongs and who does not belong, thereby preventing a significant portion of our population from succeeding.
How do we get to the bottom of this? How do we eradicate these injustices so that freedom can really thrive in the way that we envision? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Remember: Remember your own history of oppression and suffering, no matter how big or how small it might be. How have you yourself been oppressed? Where have you or a member of your family been denied access to opportunities in employment, housing or education? Where in the history of your particular ethnicity have members been marginalized, or forced to raise their families in squalid conditions? These questions are important because they help us to realize that none of us is too far removed from experiencing injustice. In remembering what we ourselves, our families and our communities have been through, we should be ever more careful to make sure that we do not perpetrate the same injustices.
2. Understand: Understand that somebody else’s freedom does not threaten your own. Someone else’s job, car, home, education or citizenship does not take from your own ability to obtain and maintain these things. The problem comes when we begin to define our own freedom by how much wealth or goods we can attain, and thereby start robbing others of theirs. But that is not freedom, nor is it good economics. It’s greed! True freedom serves others in love rather than taking from others.
3. Set others free: Freedom is not about what we can obtain, it’s about how we can use our own power to set others free. It is meant to be shared and expressed, so that others can realize the opportunities that we have known. We can begin to set people free in our thoughts. Instead of seeing others as objects, especially those who are not like us culturally or anatomically, we can begin to see them as people. Seeing others as people will help us to realize that they too are worthy of the same love, rights and access to opportunities that we want for ourselves. From our thoughts, we can refine the way that we talk and the way that we walk, so that both our speech and our actions are inviting others into a space of goodness, prosperity and justice for all.
We can especially do this as we act to reform and propose good public policies. So often in our public policy-making, we have made decisions that have favored–intentionally or unintentionally–the needs of white people over those of people of color. As a result, many communities have been cut off from economic opportunities and benefits that others have enjoyed in employment, education, housing, and so much more. But we can change this reality by making better and inviting these underrepresented communities to the decision-making table to voice the needs of their community for themselves.
If we are truly committed to freedom, we must act on these principles. In fact, if we don’t, we will soon discover that inequity negatively impacts everyone. As the income and wealth gap grows wider, those at the bottom tiers of the economic scale are deeply distressed. The economy won’t be able to sustain this imbalance of resources much longer; if the recent economic crisis is any proof, our prioritization of the wealthiest among us is destroying all of us. It’s killing genuine economic stimulation and growth, and leaves us blaming one another instead of creating solutions. Instead of continuing to feed this system, let us all work to create a new system where no one misses out and all, regardless of race, social class or background, are given the opportunity to thrive. That is what true freedom looks like.
Originally published July 2012