“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
Tag Archives: freedom
The 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally opened this week in Sturgis, South Dakota with little regard for the COVID-19 pandemic. Bike aficionados roared into town, sans masks and social distancing. I have to concede I have no problem with this. While I haven’t ridden a motorcycle in almost 30 years – and probably wouldn’t now at my age – I fully support this rally and the attendees’ right to navigate as they please. If I was on bike, traveling down the highway at 100 mph, my biggest concern wouldn’t be a virus flying into my mouth; it’d be a bug! Or some idiot coming the other way in their over-sized SUV texting.
“It’s Fourth of July weekend, or, as I call it, exploding Christmas.”
“True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth…”
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
“I always have the most fun on the Fourth of July. You don’t have to exchange any gifts. You just go to the beach and watch fireworks. It’s always fun.”
“In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.”
“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle. But with family picnics where kids throws Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”
“All people are born alike. Except Republicans and Democrats.”
“And one day people will celebrate this day by getting shit-faced and lighting Chinese explosives – Thomas Jefferson 1776.”
“The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous.”
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
I looked at Tom* with what he later described as a scowl. “Are you serious?” I asked.
“Um…yeah,” was his only reply. He then looked embarrassed – almost as if he realized he’d just said the wrong thing. Or, in this case, just pissed me off.
It was the fall of 2002, and we’d known each other for a few years and been roommates since May. Things weren’t turning out as well as I’d hoped. Pooling resources is supposed to help people get through tough time. So far, the only thing that had turned out well was the new puppy he got in August, after the death of his last dog.
I like Tom – for the most part. You never really know someone unless you either spend the night with or move in with them. Tom and I had never spent the night. I do have standards! But Tom was smart and highly-educated; something of a wild man with few bounds.
He was a little like me: a native Texan of mixed ethnicity (in his case, German and Indian) who graduated high school in 1982 and attended the University of North Texas (although I didn’t arrive there until 1984). But he was more conservative, and our political discussions on race and gender often went sideways with his right-wing logic.
This evening’s conversation was a perfect example. I can’t remember what set it off, but I had mentioned that the modern civil rights movement “had to occur”; that it had to take place. He refuted that claim; calmly stating that it had been completely unnecessary; that eventually society would “come around” and realize it was only fair to give all people a chance; that folks just “needed to wait”.
“Wait?” People had already waited – more than 400 years, from the arrival of the first Europeans to the 1950s, when Martin Luther Kind launched his quiet revolution.
People had waited through the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. People had waited through every major political and social event since the Salem Witch Trials for an equal place in American society. People had waited through the name-calling, beatings, shootings, stabbings, lynchings and relocations.
People had waited. Long enough. And that’s why everything finally exploded in the 1960s. I believe the catalyst was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Just a few years into the decade, the first U.S. president born in the 20th century was cut down by a delusional madman (or a cavalcade of them, depending on who you ask); thus squelching a promising future to an American that was moving irreversibly forward. But the centennial of the Civil War – a conflict about one group of humans owning another group, not property – helped fuel the embers of dissatisfaction. People had finally said, ‘I’ve had it. This is it. We’ve done everything possible to make ourselves valuable and worthy of a seat at that great American banquet table.’
And, in the midst of the mayhem, old White fools like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan stood around saying, ‘I don’t know why they’re so upset. They live in a free country.’
A high school English teacher once said all that happened in the 1960s was boiling in the 1950s. The Korean War – the sadly “forgotten war” – was a blight in an otherwise great decade. It was marked by the creation of the grandest economy at the time and included the seminal Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
Tom didn’t know what to say to me after my rant. It was more of a lecture. I can get emotional with those sensitive issues, but I’d maintained my decorum – each of us standing there in boxer shorts chugging beers. He was truly speechless – a rarity for him. But alas… he had to concede I was right. Or more, that he could see my point.
“Freedom is not an individual effort. Yours comes only when you grant others theirs.”
“Life is never easy. There is work to be done and obligations to be met – obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.”
Sadly, today marks the 56th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination here in my beloved home town of Dallas, Texas. I feel that, despite his short life and even shorter presidency, Kennedy helped to cultivate and enhance the concept of a true democratic society and successfully challenged Americans to work hard for those goals and to make their own lives better. We desperately need such leadership and forward-thinking ambitions today.
Here in Texas, as well as in other predominantly conservative regions of the United States, the term “liberal” is equal to demonic. Personally, I consider myself a political and social moderate – which, to most conservatives – still means liberal. Anything to the slightest left of the small-minded rhetoric of right-wing, Judeo-Christian ideology is blasphemously liberal. But, as you surely know by now, I deplore being placed in boxes to suit other people’s needs and desires. Those who have dared to always end up with a rectal thermometer-style rebuke from me. Their rules don’t apply to me.
But, for the past 30 years, liberals have allowed themselves to be defined by the opposition. They’ve hidden their true sentiments about politics and social order within the lockboxes of their minds. Outspoken liberals have been relegated to the coastal U.S. and urban America. Thus, they are viewed as elitists and globalists; cretins who dismiss the notion of “American exceptionalism” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean).
In truth, liberal means educated and open-minded; compassionate and understanding. I’m steadfast in my own outlook and opinions. Overall, I’m just left of the center, which – again – means extremist, bleeding-heart, bed-wetting liberal to the right-wingers. They can call me whatever name they wish, if it makes them feel empowered in their MINI Cooper of a mind. I’ve endured worst name-calling grade school.
But, if being liberal means…
- I believe true freedom begins with free speech and the right to vote and not with a gun.
- I believe the United States was founded on religious freedom and separation of church and state and not Judeo-Christian beliefs.
- I don’t believe White males have all the answers.
- Europe is not the foundation of civilization.
- I read more than the Christian Bible and a TV guide.
- Men and women possess different attributes, but are still equal
- The human race is really the only race on Earth.
- There is life beyond this planet.
- Industrial enterprises don’t have the right to profitably pollute the environment.
- Queer people aren’t diabolically dangerous.
…then you can call me a liberal. I call myself a human being with my own thoughts and opinions. And I don’t have to run any of these by other folks, just to get their approval.
Many social movements begin with the simplest of acts. In the fall of 1975, a group of parents called Parents of New York United complained to a local school board that school policies on library books were too “permissive.” Among the offensive tomes were Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” and Langston Hughes’ “Best Short Stories by Negro Writers,” which, the parents moaned, were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.” In response, the school district removed the books in February of 1976. But a senior high school student, Steven Pico, and four classmates challenged the board’s decision; claiming the books were removed simply because “passages in the books offended [the group’s] social, political, and moral tastes and not because the books, taken as a whole, were lacking in educational value.” Other libraries and free speech organizations filed briefs on the students’ behalf, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 as Island Trees School District v. Pico.
While many parents surely were upset that a group of high school kids had the audacity to circumvent their authority, the more significant issue was the school board’s actions. And, on a grander scale, who has the right to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable?
As the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once declared, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
Shortly after the SCOTUS reversal of the aforementioned school board’s decision, “Banned Books Week” was founded. Since then it has grown into an international event with the goal of ensuring that true freedom begins with our ability and the right to read and see pretty much whatever we want. There’s a reason, after all, why the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is first.
Like any legitimate scribe, I strongly support the right to free speech and free expression. We in these democratic societies don’t often appreciate the importance of it. But speak with anyone who grew up in a totalitarian state – where people are told what to read and how to think – and you’ll realize the value of it.
Sadly this battle will never be won. We will ALWAYS have to combat those who feel that, since they’re offended by something, no else should have access to it either. In the current chaos of extreme political correctness and assaults on the media by a deranged American president, none of us should have to tolerate the narrow-minded choices of others.
Keep writing and keep fighting!
Banned Books Week runs this year from September 23 – 29.
Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States, I referred to various photographs of the Trump family in their multi-million-dollar New York penthouse residence. “The Donald” is, of course, featured prominently front and center, with his (third) glamorous, trophy wife perched nearby; along with their son, Baron, and the real estate magnate’s adult children. Almost as prominent are the slew of plush, gilded furnishings spread throughout the abode. I kept thinking I’d seen similar photographs before; various pictures from newspapers and magazine, as well as recollections of a TV show that truly embodied 1980s-era chic and gluttony: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” (Trump was featured in the very first episode and made recurring appearances.)
At one point, though, I turned to my massive collection of books and spotted one that displayed an even more accurate depiction of the Trump family; another clan who lived long ago in similar plush surroundings, perched high above the lowly masses. Lindsey Hughes’ “The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613 – 1917” describes the life and times of Russia’s last monarchal family. For more than 300 years, the Romanovs directly impacted world politics with their wealth and power; creating a massive empire that – even in today’s watered-down version – stretches across two continents. From Tsar Michael to Tsar Nicholas II, the Romanovs maintained a steady grip on the region; impressing their subjects and striking fear in their enemies.
But, by the time the dynasty marked its tercentenary in 1913, that grip had begun to weaken. Like the rest of Europe’s royal families, the Romanovs remained encapsulated in their heavily-fortified palatial environs; far removed from the sundry plights tormenting their own people and oblivious to the real world lurking outside those jewel-encrusted walls. Nicholas II was the first of the European monarchs to be ousted from power, as World War I intruded into Russian territory, and a growing internal revolution stalked the Romanov family.
While the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, essentially marked the start of World War I, the death of the Romanovs signified the end – not just to the war, but also to the long-held concept that power and wealth are best held in the hands and pockets of a blessed few and that those few are part of the same bloodline that is never to be disturbed or questioned. It was shocking enough to international onlookers that a single gunman was able to kill Franz and Sophia with a few shots from a pistol; even as many outside of Europe initially wondered where was this place called Austria-Hungary. But, as news of the Romanovs’ demise trickled out, the anger and frustration of an oppressed people became brutally apparent. Nicholas and his immediate family, along with a handful of servants, were peppered with bullets in a basement far removed from their stately home; their bodies burned beyond recognition and dumped in neighboring woods.
World War I was actually the culmination of the growing anarchist movement, which had its genesis in the heated anger of economic and social inequality among Europe’s working classes, before spreading westward across the Atlantic to plant itself in the U.S. and Canada. Even México had succumbed to the wrath of the peasant masses; with outlaws Francisco “Pancho” Diaz and Emiliano Zapata joining forces to lead a revolt against a semi-monarchal dynasty of wealthy landowners and bankers.
This was the dawn of the 20th century; where ordinary people – the one who really keep a nation moving – finally stood up and collectively announced, “Enough!” The rampages continued, as Europe began losing their colonial holdings in Africa and elsewhere, and Latin American nations saw military dictatorships crumble in the face of concerted human rights’ campaigns. One of the 20th century’s last acts of peasant anarchy came with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Romania, the chaos became lethal when leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were dragged before a court trial staged by their otherwise lowly subjects, found guilty and lynched in public. That something so horrific could happen in 1989 shocked the world. But, for the oppressed peoples of staunchly communist Romania, it was perhaps the best Christmas present they’d ever had.
To some extent, anarchism actually sprouted roots with the American Revolution, where a mass of English immigrant descendants decided they simply did not want to be slaves to the British Crown. Shortly afterwards, French commoners took a queue from their American counterparts and launched their own revolution; one where they didn’t just extract their regal hoodlums from gigantic estates, but relished in the sight of royal heads literally rolling across wooden platforms. Throughout the 19th century, Spain and Portugal stood virtually helpless as their colonial holdings in the Americas wrenched themselves from the clutches of royal decree – only to stumble through the difficulties of independence and struggles with democracy; quagmires that exist to this day.
In 1900, China’s Boxer Rebellion was a desperate attempt by commoners to boot out European interlopers, which included assaults on Christian missionaries and converts. Some 100,000 people lost their lives in the various battles that summer. But a growing dissatisfaction towards the Qing Dynasty and the family of Emperor Puyi (sometimes spelled P’u-i) compelled the working classes to descend upon the sacred and mysterious “Forbidden City.” Puyi was only 3 years old when he ascended to the throne in 1908; less than four years later he was forced to abdicate and lived out the rest of his life as an undistinguished commoner. At the start of the 20th century, it seemed that China was poised to endure the same experience as the African continent: be carved up by European colonialists. But, if the Chinese people no longer wanted single family rule, did anyone believe they’d let bands of foreigners from the other side of the globe do the same? By the 1930s, China had evicted the Europeans.
World War II fractured Europe. A few royal families managed to survive; most notably in Great Britain. But they were all financially and morally exhausted. This culminated in the U.K. losing their colonial hold on India and Pakistan in 1947. Next came the vast continent of Africa, where European decolonialization occurred over the ensuing four decades; a massive undertaking that involved millions of people on a scale the world had never experienced before.
The 20th century’s anarchist fangs reached across the globe, toppling the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos and Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s. One of its high points was the release of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the dismantling of that country’s brutal apartheid regime within a decade. South Africa had been the last of Europe’s many colonial assets to gain independence.
A low point, though, was Argentina’s futile attempt to wrest control of the Falkland Islands from Great Britain in 1982; a brief conflict that resulted in more than 900 military deaths. Why the U.K. insists on retaining control of this tiny cluster of isolated rocks 7500 miles from the homeland remains less of a mystery than a prime example of colonialist arrogance. (Some Britons still refer to the U.S. as “the colonies.”) While Argentina was in no political or financial position to engage in such a daring military feat at the time, they have since matured and solidified their infrastructure. In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner blocked two British cruise ships that had visited the Falklands from docking on the mainland. Argentina has vowed to enforce further similar bans in the future, which could damage the Falklands’ vital tourist industry.
In the Middle East, anarchism produced schizophrenic results. Anti-royal sentiments led to the 1973 deposition of the Barakzai, Afghanistan’s royal family. That may have set the stage for the Soviet Union’s bloody but futile attempt to annex that country in 1979. However, the U.S. became unexpectedly mired in the antagonism of the Iranian populace towards their own royal family, the Pahlavis. Shah Reza Pahlavi had crowned himself emperor in 1967 and led a brutal regime where dissidence was punished with unprecedented violence and oppression – tools common among wicked oligarchs. Pahlavi’s 1978 ouster led to the notorious Iran Hostage Crisis, which caught both the U.S. and the world completely off-guard. Concerned more with the Soviet threat and the oddly-christened “Cold War,” the U.S. government unwittingly experienced its first battle with Islamic extremism.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, royal families held on in Jordan and Syria. The discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1930s allowed the region’s ruling families and their subjects to be pulled up from the doldrums of a tribal / fiefdom-style existence and dropped into the vats of unimaginable wealth. No one seemed to care that women couldn’t drive cars, much less vote.
While anarchist anger dominated the 20th century, does the same hold true now? Studying the Trump clan, I can’t help but conjure up images of the Romanovs. Economic inequality is just as great now as it was a hundred years ago. We’ve returned to that “Gilded Age” period where the bulk of the world’s wealth and power sit in the grubby hands of a privileged few. The recent “Great Recession” was the worst economic downturn the U.S. had experienced since the “Great Depression.” Both debacles were the result of greed and political incompetence; the former mess instigated by the verbally-challenged scion of another monarchal-type dynasty: the Bush family. Aside from producing two of the worst presidencies within a generation, the Bush clan’s close ties to the Saudi royal family essentially allowed planning for and execution of the 9/11 events to go unnoticed; thus culminating in one misguided war and another illegitimate one, as the economy glided atop a housing bubble that didn’t just pop – it exploded. If regulations and measures a liberal president had established some eight decades ago hadn’t been in place, both the U.S. economy and the U.S. populace would have sunk into chaotic and murderous oblivion.
Power and wealth usually go together; conjoined twins that sometimes have no mercy for the commoners squirming beneath them. The leftist “Occupy Wall Street” movement didn’t gain as much traction as the right-wing “Tea Party,” which claimed passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 as the seeds of their founding; when, in fact, it was the election of the nation’s first biracial president that pissed them off. If they were so upset about undue taxation, they would have put blame for the economic downturn where it belonged: on the backs of their own Washington leaders who keep propagating the myth of “trickle-down economics.”
But the rise of a foul-mouthed, thrice-married bombastic businessman to the highest office in the land has lit another fire beneath millions of ordinary Americans frustrated with a “jobless recovery”; no one going to jail for causing the recent banking / home loan debacle; and endless conflicts in the Middle East. The illegitimacy of Donald Trump’s placement in the White House makes a mockery of the American democratic experience. Our 18th century predecessors carefully designed a unique concept of governing and valiantly fought against the very people who brought them here. The United States was an outlandish experiment that could have gone seriously wrong if so many people hadn’t realized its true value and potential over the ensuing centuries. As a nation, we didn’t want a group of self-righteous elitists – families riddled with colorblindness, hemophilia and unbridled arrogance – to rule over us and not be questioned. Our American forbears understood that humanity must work as a unit to achieve the best possible society. The various civil rights actions of the past 200 years – from abolitionism to gay/lesbian rights – have helped to refine this strange idea known as democracy.
Looking again at the Trump clan, I still can’t help but think of the Romanovs and realize how much they all have in common. However, I don’t wish the same fate upon the Trumps. As brutal as we often seem to the international community, that’s not what Americans do or who we are.
Either way, we didn’t want or need a royal family 240 years ago to impose its fickle will upon our lives – and we don’t want or need one now.
Film footage of Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation in May 1896. It’s one of the earliest known (and one of the fewest surviving) motion pictures and the first known example of the new medium utilized to capture a major news event.
“It is those who have struggled the most, and who’ve been forced to be the most creative, that have the most to teach us.”
– Matthew Dennis, Professor of History and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”