On the eve of our nation’s Independence Day, I am reminded of the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “None of us is free until all of us are free.” And 50 years later, it still rings true. The United States of America gained its freedom from England in 1776 following the Revolutionary War. But what can be said about Native Americans who pled with our government to stop the raping and desecration of their lands for oil pipelines; the numerous incidents of police brutality and murder of unarmed black Americans; the LGBTQ+ community as they watch the systematic erosion of the simple instances of equality they have recently gained; the children who have been conscripted into sex slavery; the immigrant children locked in camps without medical attention, proper food or showers; and what about women who are experiencing the denial of control over their own bodies, even in cases of rape and incest?
“None of us is free until all of us are free.” What does this mean to you? If you have a nice life, or even a life that isn’t great but you’ve fought hard for, you may tend to avoid rocking the boat. You wouldn’t want to advocate for others who are not free because you may have to pay higher taxes for it. You may have to give up some of what you have worked hard to achieve. You may even fault those who struggle for not working as hard. However, if you truly dissect that, you will see that you’ve been afforded opportunities others will never have.
You created your opportunities, you say? The fact that you know how to do that, or even have thoughts about certain opportunities as possible, speaks to your personal privilege. When you are born into poverty, with laws that are not designed to protect you, the arms of opportunity don’t exactly open wide to embrace you.
I am one of the people the system works for. My father told me when I was young that I could be anything I wanted to be as long as I was willing to work hard. I have worked hard and I have succeeded: the American dream. However, my ancestors were Western Europeans, so we’ve had a lot of privilege as a result. My great grandfather, grandfather and father were all businessmen, so I learned owning a business was possible. I was also raised in the Christian faith. I went to Sunday School and church services every Sunday. I learned that Jesus didn’t discriminate and spent time serving the downtrodden. He bathed lepers, ate with tax collectors and sat waiting for his executioners without malice. This is where my values stem from. I learned compassion for others less fortunate than me. I learned generosity for those in need. These values are not exclusive to the Christian faith, though. Almost every holy book from mainstream world religions espouses similar values. But in the United States, Christians receive more privilege than any other religions because it was Protestants who founded this country based on religious freedom—but those freedoms seem to be exclusive to Protestants. We don’t extend most of those freedoms to Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Bahá’i worshipers.
As I spread my wings and experienced the world beyond the very small town where I was raised, I made friends with people who weren’t anything like me. Yet no matter how different someone looks from you, there are always more similarities than differences. It is no surprise to me that people filled with hate and disdain while believing stereotypes about an entire group of people have either zero first-hand, personal experience with that group, limited experience or experience only within a certain context.
Here is what I know about freedom and the people who long for it:
- People want to feel safe and provide safety for their families.
- People want to live in an environment where they know the rules and they are applied equally.
- People want a better life for their children.
- People love and protect children.
- People worry about the future.
- People want to love and be loved.
- People want to be able to love who they love without interference and judgement.
- People want to be generous and help one another.
- People want equal opportunities to be able to explore and be successful at their passion.
- People want to be successful on their chosen paths.
- People want the freedom to come and go as they please.
- People want to experience joy in their lives.
This is what I have learned about the commonalities of all the people I have met. I don’t believe there are bad people in the world, but I do know there are people who believe that the only way they can have the above things is by hurting others. With different experiences and opportunities, they would be just like you and me.
When countries go to war, they aren’t warring with an anonymous country. They are killing someone’s husband, father, son, wife, mother or daughter. Sanctions hurt people, individuals with hopes and dreams for the future. People who are just trying to live their lives without interference.
On this Independence Day in 2019, what will you think about? In addition to drinking your beer and wine, eating barbeque and watching impressive firework displays, will you also be thinking about those people who live in the U.S. and around the globe who don’t have the freedom to celebrate? What will you do about it?