President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” That’s a scary statement. Why on earth would he say something like that? To paraphrase him, freedom isn’t in our DNA. Freedom must be fought for and protected. Americans, particularly white middle-class folk like myself, underestimate the value of our freedom. And because we underestimate it, we lose bits and pieces of it and tell ourselves it will be okay. We underestimate how taking freedom from others also chips away at our freedom. We underestimate it because we make assumptions about what freedom is.
Definition of Freedom
Before you can fight for your freedom, understanding is necessary. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, freedom is
“ 1: the quality or state of being free: such as
a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another: independence
c: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous freedom from care
d: unrestricted use gave him the freedom of their home
e: ease, facility spoke the language with freedom
f: the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken answered with freedom
g: improper familiarity
h: boldness of conception or execution
2 a: a political right
b: franchise, privilege”
That’s a mouthful.
Let’s analyze this definition in terms of our actual freedom.
Freedom of Choice or Action
Are we all free of any necessity, coercion, or constraint in our choices or actions? Of course not. Does that mean we aren’t free? It depends. Often what we think is necessary is a necessity by our choice. We choose to have a job (necessary if you want to eat well, but it’s still a choice), a clean house, extracurricular activities, an education. These are things we could choose not to do or have. The fact that we are able to make those choices is freedom.
Wait a minute, you say. What about all the people who can’t find a job or who can’t pay for food or medicine because they don’t/can’t make enough money. Our system is imperfect. Not everyone gets the same choices. Freedom is a work-in-progress. A basic set of equal choices–housing, education, equal pay for equal jobs–is freedom. We, as a nation, need to work on that. Enhancing those choices through personal initiative and hard work should also be a choice for everyone.
We have no legal slavery. We have legal restraint in the form of laws and prisons. Many people in this country have a great deal of independence. But, we are taking immigrant children from their parents. We are imprisoning political asylum seekers. Since they are not citizens, they are not guaranteed the same rights as citizens of the United States of America. But, if we value freedom we must also value mercy and compassion.
We have people of color who are constrained by people who have authoritative power. Yes, I’m talking police, leaders, anyone who has authoritative power through a legal or perceived assignment. It is irresponsible to ignore those constraints. It is irresponsible to claim all police and all legal authoritative persons abuse their power. Our system is imperfect. But we must open our eyes and heart to the large-scale imbalance that penalizes people of color. It is an imbalance that, shame us all.
Freedom from Care
This is one freedom no one person can guarantee another. Even our children have worries and serious problems. Ranging from drug- and alcohol-addicted parents, to bullies on the playground, to medical issues, these worries are real. What would you give to allow your children, or yourselves, to be free from care? Don’t underestimate how people of color or immigrants feel about this.
This is a freedom that most of us have, but not all. There are places people of color dare not go. There are places white people dare not go. Are you underestimating the value of freedom to travel, to go where you wish?
Ease or Facility
This is in reference to the ease with which you use something: such as language or a tool. For some of us, being free is easy. We don’t have to work hard to maintain our personal freedom. For some of us, it’s not easy at all. Some of us fear for their personal freedom, their lives, on a daily basis. Don’t underestimate their lack of freedom.
This part of the definition refers to the quality of being outspoken. This could refer to our freedom of speech, but it could also be an attribute of personality. We’ll discuss this aspect another day.
This is an abuse of freedom, especially if in respect to touching another person. Another discussion for a day in the future.
Boldness of Concept
This part of the definition pertains to the freedom to have bold ideas. This freedom was one our nations founding fathers used.
Political Right or Privilege
Sum up all the aspects of the definition, this is what we are talking about today: our privilege of freedom. For it is not something inborn, it is an earned privilege.
Privilege is a right or an immunity that has been granted. (see Merriam-Webster). Granted, meaning someone else gave it to us. We weren’t born with it and we didn’t earn it. The way you earn it is to practice it and to protect it.
Fight for Freedom
Thank God some brave folks are willing to join our military services and to fight and die to protect our freedom. Not all of us are willing or able to do that. But that’s not the only way to protect your freedom.
You can value and protect your freedom every day. Vote. March against or protest an unconstitutional or immoral law. If you can’t march or protest, educate yourself on the issues. Write letters to your governing leadership. Write blog posts. Help those who have less independence than you by being their voice.
Freedom means that you don’t sit by while rights are being taken away. Understand your freedom. Don’t take my word or someone else’s word. Read the constitution. Understand the constitution. Understand the political issues today. Earn your freedom by protecting it for yourself and others. Then grant freedom to the next generation: to your children, your neighbors, people of color, and the immigrants who come looking for the privilege of being in the United States of America. Cheer on people who are able to protest, to march. Think about the issues on a global, nationwide scale. Next year will you be celebrating or losing your liberty? Your one-issue vote may be the one that is needed to keep freedom from going extinct.
Underestimating the value of freedom for other people isn’t the way to preserve our freedom. Don’t be the reason freedom goes extinct.