Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Don’t mourn. Organize.

Posted by Charles II on July 4, 2011

Once, many years ago while campaigning door-to-door, I got into a discussion with a woman as to what freedom is. Thinking that she would respond with words asserting freedom of speech, press, religion, and so on, I asked her, “Is it just the right to buy whatever you want?” To which she said yes, for her, that’s what freedom meant.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that she had a point. A free market is an important component of a free society. Without it, the satirical social commentary of Michael Moore, Robert Greenwald, and others would never have reached millions of people… of course, more and more, genuine exercises of free speech like those examples are more the barnacle on the ship than the keel. More broadly, the standard of living that allowed a previous generation to imagine a consumer-led economy created the space for the freedoms commemorated in the Constitution. Franklin Roosevelt mentioned freedom from want as an essential freedom, and he was right. Being free to buy and sell is an important freedom. But it is surely not the only one.

While certain freedoms, such as the right to same-gender marriage, have continued to expand, freedom overall has been in decline at least since the decisions of the USSR and China to open their societies. In the United States, assassination, torture, kidnapping, wiretapping, and entrapment are now treated as if they were legal under some circumstances. There is a determined effort to impose right-wing ideology and a bizarre version of Christianity on the whole country. The loss of any restraint on campaign finance, the stripping of union rights, the targeting of organizations for defunding–all of these are major blows of freedom. The peace dividend which should have restored American productivity has been swallowed up in wars big and small. The financial crisis has reduced many across the developed world to poverty.

And in the developing world, authoritarian or oligarchic rule is still the norm. There may be pushback in the Middle East, but on the American continent and in subSaharan Africa, not to mention Bahrain, the situation is bad. For Americans, I believe there are no higher priorities in defending freedom, other than the US, than Haiti, Honduras, and Mexico. Wherever we can help, we should help, if only by standing in solidarity with others. The drive toward global oligarchy is a blind, self-destructive madness. It will end badly.

The two-year anniversary of the coup against democracy in Honduras passed, little-noticed, on June 28th. The Resistance has formed a political party. Mrs. Manuel Zelaya may run for president. But nothing will have changed until there is real truth, and real justice. Honduras is an object lesson for us, if only we will see.

On this Fourth of July, I find it difficult to celebrate. So many American have forgotten what it means to be free. It means being a full partner in a society. Citizens are like neurons in the brain. Rich and poor, smart and dumb, we all have something to add to the national conversation. When we are all full partners, the nation is wise. The fewer partners there are, the stupider the nation becomes, until at last it blunders into pointless wars, reckless finance, and the demonization of its own citizens.

But just as I find it difficult to celebrate, I refuse to mourn. It has always been thus: a few people–a perilously few people– act as the lamps to the rest, helping them to see more. When they see more, they do wisely. There are moments when things seem very dark. This is one of them. But it is not a time to mourn what is lost. It is the time to light lamps.

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