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July 23, 2019

6/26/2019 2:42:00 PM
Editorial: The Miracle of Freedom

The Fourth of July gives us a moment to consider the miracle that is this country. Some parts of our history are ghastly. Reflection on other moments allows us to savor the freedoms that the efforts of hundreds of thousands – named and unknown, famous and unsung – have fought and struggled to preserve and achieve.

We can deconstruct the Declaration of Independence, signed by men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to founding this republic, while we acknowledge some of these same men were unapologetic slaveholders and all of them ignored the rights of women.

We can recount the shame of eminent domain, which deprived the First Americans of their land, their language, their dignity and, at times, their lives – as slavery did to the hundreds of thousands brought here in chains.

We can be horrified at the harm visited on our fellow residents in the name of some vague notion of justice or harmony, and we can only wonder at the blindness of so many leaders and followers to the pain and humiliation of residents who did not conform to the convenient “norm” of the day.

Victimhood has a powerful place in the history of this country, and the voices of victims and victims’ advocates have helped engineer strong and needed changes in laws, our thinking and our social structure.

An effective means, used time and again by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is to point out the injustice and speak to it as it relates to the values shared by people on both sides of the issue. Doing this elevates victims to advocates, giving them a share not just in the voice for change but in the evolving community itself.

This is where we, the people, shine. Collectively and communally we are stronger than when we fall into such divisive conveniences as “us” and “them.”

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump took another of his many intentionally divisive steps when he said he would order mass arrests and promised the removal of “millions of illegal aliens,” beginning the weekend of June 15.

The threat runs counter to the City’s Welcoming Ordinance, under which no City department, including the Police Department, may ask questions about the immigration status of any resident seeking City services. Except in cases of criminal activity, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can expect no cooperation from City officials, including police officers.

In responding to the president’s threat, Mayor Stephen Hagerty assured the community that the tenets of the City’s welcoming ordinance stand. This is something nearly everyone could support, a collective good for the community.

We live in a country where we can protest our president’s divisive and destructive tactics.

We have our Constitution to thank for all of this. John Dickinson, known as the penman of the Constitution, wrote in the preamble that the Constitution was ordained and established  to, among other things, “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

One of those liberties is guaranteed by the First Amendment: the right, within certain limitations, to protest actions and conditions in the country and to petition the government for redress or change.

This is a time when many of us feel personally and collectively under siege. Our system of checks and balances seems frayed and frail right now. There is talk of impeachment and there are signs proclaiming “Resist.”

This is a miracle of freedom. It is the miracle of this country.


Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 28, 2019
Comment by: Alyce Barry

Well, okay. I rolled my eyes at the word "freedom" in the headline, it shows up a lot in tributes to July 4th written by white people. One of the activists I follow on Twitter, Brittany Packnett (@MsPackyetti), has talked about the freedom she felt on vacation in Africa surrounded by dark-skinned people who weren't looking at her with suspicion. "I realized after just 5 minutes in Trinidad and Tobago what was missing: The gaze. I hadn't felt that free in years," she tweeted.

Have you heard of "white gaze"? Most white people haven't. I learned white gaze most from my mother, who would look at any group of dark-skinned people to "see what those people are up to" on the suspicion that they were up to no good. Mom had ancestors in Virginia, and I haven't yet discovered if any of them were slaveholders who would've used their white gaze to keep an eye on enslaved people in their house or fields.

I think many Black folks long for simple freedoms like fixing their car or having a barbecue or picking up litter on their front lawn without a white-fragile person calling the cops on them. Freedom from white people using the N-word or asking to touch their hair. Freedom from hundreds of everyday slights from people too white-fragile to see them as fully human.

Freedom is under attack, and the Constitution is proving to be inadequate to many of our current challenges. While we patiently wait on the rule of law to save us, children are abused in detention centers or drowning in the Rio Grande. The Constitution has done nothing so far to protect us from school shooters, or the minority rule of the electoral college and the US Senate which was designed to preserve slavery. Nothing so far to protect us from an incompetent, possibly insane President who is probably a serial rapist, who can take us into war with Iran if he feels like it. Nothing so far to protect us from a Senate Majority Leader determined to strip the House of Representatives of its power to legislate or presidential advisors meeting in secret with foreign leaders or violating the Hatch Act.

So right now I'm afraid I'm free of things I don't want to be free of, like constitutional protections.

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