This Fourth of July holiday is traditionally one of boisterous and colorful celebration. This year may not appear different on the outside, but it’s different. On this day we celebrate our country’s historic declaration of independence in 1776. The following year began the Revolutionary War or the American War of Independence. We won the war, and our liberty, at great cost. That liberty is part of what made this nation great. But not this year. This year, you could be celebrating or losing your liberty.
There are certainly people within the United States of America who have lost their liberty and will lose their liberty in the future. Before we descend into the argument about who deserves liberty. Let’s talk about the word, “liberty.”
We bandy the word about a lot in this country. A brief internet search uncovered Liberty Mutual Insurance, Liberty, Missouri and Liberty Schools, Liberty Tax Service, Liberty Media Corporation, and the Statue of Liberty. But liberty doesn’t mean insurance, or a town or any kind of corporation or business. Liberty is the quality or state of being free. Freedom from physical restraint, from arbitrary or despotic control, free to have the positive enjoyment of social, political, and economic rights and privileges (Merriam Webster Dictionary.)
In their fear, people on both sides of the American political field call for America to “return” to her former glory. This is not America’s finest hour. But, she has always been an imperfect nation.
The Statue of Liberty arrived in New York harbor June 17, 1885. It took a year to build the pedestal. Assembly completed, President Cleveland “accepted” the gift from France. The creators of the statue had intended for her uplisted torch to represent “enlightenment.” Nearly 14 million immigrants entered the United States through New York between 1886 and 1924. To them, the Statue said “welcome.” Over time the statue became a symbol of hope for generations of immigrants.
Emma Lazarus donated her poem written in 1883, “The New Colossus,” to an auction to raise funds for the construction of the pedestal. In 1903 the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and attached to the base of the Statue. The poem contains the lines,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
There have always been critics of immigrants to America. In 1890 a cartoon in Judge depicted the Statue as sneering and raising her robe to protect it from the newcomers “European Garbage ships” dumped at her feet. Irrationally, people feared that immigrants were threats to American liberties and values.
How sad that we, as a nation, have not overcome that irrational thought process. In 2013 only two percent of the American population were native Americans. Yes, those native Americans. Two percent. That means one of your relatives was an immigrant, one of those threats to American liberties and values. It also means that those American liberties and values were built out of the melting pot of immigrants. What if your immigrant relatives were denied entry or deported out of fear? Where would you be living now?
Liberty Isn’t Pie
There’s no limit to the number of people who can have liberty—if we are free enough to welcome them. If we believe we cannot share this liberty we enjoy, we become prisoners of our fear. We lose our liberty to fear.
During this holiday, this Fourth of July, please take a moment to think about where your family came from. Think about your fears. Think about the conditions today’s immigrants are fleeing—imprisonment, tyranny, war. By begrudging them a share of liberty, your fear is poisoning America. The poison of fear spreads like wildfire. Will some segment of the American population become afraid of your kind? If they do, will you lose your liberty?
This year, are you celebrating or losing your liberty? What will you be doing next year?