Thursday, July 4, 2013

This is my Fourth of July post

Ask me what I remember about childhood Fourth of Julys and I'll tell you, as most kids will, about fireworks. We'd usually go down to the local fireworks display in a park in Englewood, Ohio and sit on the grass on top of blankets. Nobody had these nifty folding chairs back then; the blanket and the ground were more than adequate for us. You could even lay on your back and look straight up at the sky if you wanted to. On occasion we'd get to do something special for the Fourth, like go down to Cincinnati to see the Reds play baseball and watch the Cincinnati fireworks display afterwards, but usually we watched the Englewood fireworks. By today's lavish standards, those shows were pretty pathetic, though never to a child.

Photo of the Miller's Grove pool in 2011
I think we often spent the days at a pool. I remember spending at least one Fourth at Miller's Grove, where we had gone for swimming lessons and special occasions and periodically just went for a swim. There was a picnic area there where we could grill out, minigolf, and a playground for when we needed to take a break from the pool. At one point in its history, there was a drive-in movie theater, too, but that closed down in 1986, and I'm not sure we ever used it before then.

Miller's Grove has been abandoned. Children won't be spending their Fourth there this year. I don't know what happened to it, but I speculate it has something to do with video games, television, and the way American children spend their time indoors these days. There's no playing outside with the neighborhood kids; now parents make "play dates" or keep them inside to protect them from the boogeymen that roam the streets of America. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe it was just a poorly run business, but if it were simply that, someone else could have bought it and turned it around.

Ask an American if he is proud to be an American and he will say yes. Ask him why and he often stumbles. "Because we have freedom" is a common answer. What does that even mean? What IS freedom?

How are you free if you won't send your child outside to play with the neighborhood children for safety reasons?

How are you free if a tenth of your entire population is in prison?

How are you free if you are in debt up to your eyeballs with mortgages, credit cards, and student loans?

How are you free when someone can walk into a school and shoot up a classroom of first graders?

How are you free if your government can listen to your phone calls and read your emails without a warrant?

How are you free if you're living paycheck to paycheck while CEOs have seen their salaries increase by 1000% since 1950? Yes, 1000%.

How are you free if you're legislating bedroom activity or telling people who they can marry?

How are you free if your foreign policy has made you the object of hatred across the world, enough where people want to bomb your marathons and fly planes into your buildings?

What is freedom?

Various definitions of freedom can cause some confusion about what the word means. For Americans, freedom usually means freedom from an authoritarian government. It's the very reason for the existence of the United States of America. It means having a say in policymaking. It means voting rights. But there are other definitions of the word. For some, freedom is a state of mind. It means being able to think without relying on preconceived notions or ideologies like religion that are taught to people at a young age as truth. For others, freedom means utopia, a world without poverty or disease or war. My favorite concept of freedom comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who linked freedom with forgiveness. You can't be free if you cling to anger, hatred, and grudges.

Some thoughts on "freedom:"

Freedom is being able to vote for the candidate of your choosing with 100% certainty that you are casting a ballot in free and fair elections. Most countries in the world claim to be democratic (ever heard of The Democratic People's Republic of Korea?). We all know this is not the case. Check out this 2010 map from Nobel using data from Freedom House:

Democracies of the world - 2010

More than 100 countries in the world are not democratic countries. But...there are 196 countries in the world, which means that almost half of them ARE democracies. If Russia and China weren't so huge, there would be a lot less red on this map. Many of these countries do hold elections, but that doesn't make them democratic. A democratic country has free and fair elections and doesn't try to suppress the votes of others. A democratic country protects the rights of minority voters - democracy is not tyranny of the majority. That SCOTUS took away that protection so that its dominant party can gerrymander minority districts and use other minority voter suppression tactics is undemocratic.

You can't have freedom while you oppress others.

Freedom is being able to send your kids to a good school without armed guards or drug dealers or teachers getting in trouble for straying from a standardized test curriculum or for trying to discipline a child. It's being able to send your kids to school without worrying they won't come home alive.

Freedom is being able to own a house without fear that banks will take them away, especially when they drag the world into a global financial crisis.

Freedom is Average Joe and Jane being able to go to Miller's Grove swimming pool on a hot Fourth of July without some vice squad telling them what to wear or separating males and females. Many heroes fought for women's rights in this country, heroes who spent time in jail, heroes who made sacrifices to promote freedom for women. Too many parts of the world don't have that. Too many parts of the world treat women as objects or second class citizens. That certain groups are trying to take away the freedom of American women makes them no different than those in other parts of the world who deny freedom for women.

Freedom is living without the thought police and people trying to turn religious beliefs into law. In one part of the world, that is called "sharia." (Here we call it the Republican Party.)

Freedom is the right to work without your employer treating you like a piece of property.

Freedom is NOT a life without consequences.

Every person in the world wants that kind of freedom that Americans claim to have. What we call "The American Dream" is the human dream. Everyone wants freedom to worship, freedom to speak, freedom to send their kids to good schools and to have a job to support their families, freedom to have a roof over their heads, to live comfortably, away from the evil grip of poverty. For whatever reason Americans think this is unique to them. It's not.

Only a quarter of Americans hold a passport, meaning that at least three-fourths of the population has never left the country. How on earth can you say "America is the greatest country" when you've never seen anything else? You'd be surprised to see how much of the world looks similar to America and how much of the world lives like Americans. It's not the "American way." It's the human way. Remember, half the world lives in a democracy. We aren't special.

I miss the time when days like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Labor Day weren't excuses to wave flags and buy red, white, and blue baseball hats, when they were days to get together with friends and family and appreciate the things we have rather than shoving it down the throats of other people in the world. The truth is, we are very lucky to have been born here rather than some oppressive place on the planet, but America isn't free-of-charge. You can't just sit back and mooch "freedom" without lifting a finger to maintain it. Waving a flag and singing God Bless America and cheering for military members at baseball games isn't doing something. Paying your taxes, writing your congressasshole, participating in demonstrations and rallies, volunteering for campaigns, donating to good causes, going to community meetings, paying attention to local and national news, making informed and principled purchases, being environmental responsible...these are all necessary actions to maintain a healthy and stable democracy. People say, "freedom isn't free." You're damn right it isn't, so do your share of the work! Don't let America become a Miller's Grove wasteland.

The people who profess a love for America the most are often the ones who don't live American ideals. Put your money where your mouth is. You think America is a great place? Do something to make it so. You think America is a free place? Stop trying to ban things you don't like. You support the troops? Prove it by opposing their deployment to war.  Use this day to reflect upon your place in America. Look in a mirror and ask yourself, "Am I living up to the ideals in which I profess to believe?" That's from where "America" gets its meaning. Otherwise, it's just empty patriotism, a mere marketing slogan for a product.

God Bless America.™

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