Thinking about freedom for all
On the Bright Side
July 3, 2021
Ever since I grew up enough to be aware that the American ideal and the American reality are two distinctly different things, I've had a variety of mixed feelings about the Fourth of July.
On the one hand I am full of wonder and awe and gratitude at the story of our hard-won and hard-kept freedoms; on the other, I am filled with sadness and fear and sometimes disbelief about the freedoms some of us seem willing to deny certain other groups of American citizens on a daily basis.
On July 4, 1776, representatives from the 13 colonies (the Continental Congress), in order "to form a more perfect union," signed the Declaration of Independence. The ideals of freedom are what men and women very much like you and me died in the Revolutionary War to get, and later in many other wars to keep.
The reality, of course, was that in 1776 freedom for all really meant freedom for all landowners (not for women or for slaves or indentured servants or renters, etc.).
Through the years of our nation's history we have come closer to the ideal of freedom for all, but while we have made great strides, we also have a long way to go to make the ideal of freedom – and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – for all a reality.
I'd like to ask you to take a few minutes sometime in July, even if it isn't on the 4th, to think a little bit about "liberty and justice" for all, and what it means to you. And think about whether you would go to war to fight for freedom for not only you and your family but for your neighbors across the street as well as your neighbors across the tracks.
Freedom isn't always pretty, and it isn't ever easy. And it never really means total freedom (a concept hard for some people to grasp). The reality of everyone being free means that everyone also makes sacrifices in order to keep those freedoms intact (a conundrum if ever there was one). While some of our young men and women are fighting to preserve the ideal of freedom for us even today, if your particular sacrifice means living next door to someone who painted their house a color you don't like or whose weeds are an inch or two over the limit, I think you should get down on your knees and thank whatever powers you believe in that that is the only sacrifice you are being called upon to make these days.
I don't know who first said that, "until we are all free, no one is really free," but I agree with the sentiment. I also think that as Americans who believe in freedom, ideally we would all want everyone around us to have the same freedoms we enjoy. I can go to the church of my choice, or no church at all, and you can go to your choice of church or none at all. I can marry the person I love, you can marry the person you love. Or not. And on and on it goes.
It is also said that equal rights for all does not mean fewer rights for some and I agree with that, even when I see some people trying hard to make it as one sided as they can. I also know that recognizing someone else's freedoms is one of the hardest things Americans seem to have to do. But my freedom to live my life as I choose, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, does not impinge on your right to live as you choose (providing you don't hurt anyone else, either). The key seems to be in minding our own business and letting other people mind their own.
It's a struggle, I admit, and we certainly stumble and fall periodically, even with the best of intentions. And there are probably always going to be some people bent on tripping us up every chance they get.
But I believe in the ideals set forth on Independence Day, so long ago in 1776, and I will continue to work for the reality that all – I mean ALL – Americans can enjoy those ideals sooner rather than later.
Happy Fourth of July.
© Marilda Mel White. Mel is a local photographer and writer, and owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove; she's been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your thoughts and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.