Independence Day is always bittersweet for me. While I appreciate the opportunity to celebrate Americans’ relative freedom (especially this year after marriage between two people, regardless of gender, was backed by The Supreme Court), I can’t help but notice the irony of such a holiday — there are still so many people who live in this “free” country who don’t experience the same level of freedom as I do.
There are people in debt, barely able to afford to put food on the table. There are innocent people incarcerated, or people who have an unnecessarily severe sentence because of politics, race, and economics. There are people kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking, and there are people who fear for their lives because of racism, whether from law enforcement or hate groups.
The sad truth is, America was never the land of the free. It was taken from the Native American people, who were herded like so many cattle to live out their lives on reservations, a wretched decision still being enforced today. The land was fought over, claimed by those with the most power. This country, like many others, was built on the backs of the less powerful, those taken advantage of and forced to create a world that had no place for them.
And yet we continue to insist that America gives each of its citizens liberty and justice. Look at what has continued to happen, despite the powerful efforts made to heal the racial tension: Native Americans are still held on reservations, black Americans are shot to death almost daily (for no apparent reason other than their skin tones), their churches burned, and their families broken apart. Latin Americans can’t escape the stigma we’ve created either, nor our Muslim community.
Maybe the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were only created with white men in mind. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. We are taking small steps toward a truly free country, but we all need to educate ourselves, root out problematic systems and behaviors, and do what we can to ensure that our neighbors, regardless of ethnicity, religion, orientation, gender, political stance, or economic status have the freedom to live their own lives, access to justice, and to pursue at least some degree of happiness.
Freedom isn’t just for the few. If freedom is indeed available, it should be available for everyone. This doesn’t mean flying a hateful symbol of racism on state grounds. That’s oppression. It doesn’t mean yelling hate speech during a funeral, which is persecution. And it doesn’t mean holding beliefs that encourage harm to others, which results in terrorism.
Freedom means we treat each other with respect, no matter how different we are. We each have the right to enjoy the same privileges, the right to vote, to marry whom we will, the right to live as we see fit to ensure our happiness — not at the cost of anyone else.
Is it a perfect system? No, and it never will be. But it won’t get better unless we push for equality for all. And I do believe it can get better.
So if you’re inclined to watch something tomorrow, don’t fall prey to American propaganda films that insist on portraying other people as monsters, like Zero Dark Thirty or American Sniper. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by a film that gives you warm fuzzies for the military, like Max.
Watch The Lone Ranger and let the plight of Native Americans and people we enslaved to sink in. Watch the strength of people in Independence Day, or cheer Luke, Leia and Han on as they fight for the galaxy’s freedom against an oppressive regime. Watch Selma and see how far we still have to go. Watch The Avengers, who fight against Loki’s idea that people wish to be ruled with an iron grip.
The fight for freedom isn’t over. We cannot say that America provides everyone with the same rights and freedoms. But if we band together, we can change this. It won’t be easy, and it sure won’t be peaceful.
But ask yourself the question Castiel posits to Dean in Supernatural: “Do you want peace…or freedom?”
True freedom can’t happen until every last one of us is free.Image Credits: Stars & Stripes