The Land of the Free on the Fourth of July

It was a fine summer day this Fourth of July. Balmy, mid-70s, sunny. Perfect weather, really, for a barbecue, or anything else for that matter. Truly a lovely day for celebrating the birth of the self-ascribed “greatest country in the world.”

Yeah, you know what’s coming. Nuncle Jack is here and he has some truth to lay down. Hope you enjoyed your hot dogs and flavored sugar water. Hope the beer and ice cream were both cold and the fireworks were hot and sizzling. I hope it was a lovely party, because here comes the rain.

I suppose I’m feeling extra-cynical this year, because 2016 has done a lot to make visible the deep-seated rot in the heart of this country. It’s tough to celebrate winning our independence from tyranny when we’re so very, very close to welcoming it right back in. Locked in a system with two parties, neither of which meaningfully serves the people, each presenting a Presidential candidate worse than the other. On the right, a cheeto-stained, tiny-fingered, self-obsessed, hate-filled party balloon, and also on the right, a sociopathic, warmongering, corporatist queen with no platform other than that she should be President. “Freedom.”

How dare we call ourselves the greatest country in the world when we’re right on the edge of electing a fascist, or the beneficiary of electoral fraud? How dare we say we live in the land of the free when our conversations are subject to being monitored by the government? When women’s bodies don’t belong to them, when you can be put in jail for life for daring to grow a specific plant. A plant, for fuck’s sake. How “free” are we when the wages we’re paid won’t allow us to support ourselves, let alone our families? How “free” are we when the price of getting an education is debt slavery for most of your adult life?

Not maudlin enough? Fine, let’s go for the grand guignol.

The history of the world is replete with genocides. Hitler. Stalin. Mao. Pol pot. Mogadishu. Frequently glossed over are the First Nations folk, those who lived in the “New World” before the coming of the Europeans in the late 1400s. A hundred million souls, so many that their campfires could be smelled a hundred miles out to sea. So many that the vikings, upon arriving at “Vinland,” were repelled after two short years and never came back. So many that when the plagues brought by the invaders were finished doing their work, the decline in population and resultant re-wilding of the First Nations territories pulled so much carbon out of the atmosphere that it caused a global temperature depression, the “little Ice Age.”

A hundred million people, dead. I’m hesitant to call it a “genocide” only because I’m not positive the Europeans knew what they were bringing. Nevertheless, the plagues killed nineteen people out of twenty, so many that the settlements that finally “took,” at Plymouth and elsewhere, found a continent virtually uninhabited. Ripe for the plucking, with so few natives left that they could really only put up token resistance. Give us a bloody nose here and there.

Why would they give us a bloody nose? Because we were fucking invading, is why. All the time we were patting ourselves on the back for our “freedom,” we were savagely, brutally oppressing what was left of the native population. Reservations and forced relocation, pushing them out to make room for us. America is built on the bones of a hundred million people, and we have yet to really acknowledge this, let alone apologize for it. Make it right. The original inhabitants were plenty “free” before we showed up and conquered them. Afterwards? Not so much.

And don’t even get me started on slavery. Oops, too late. Small potatoes compared to the native genocide, only five to ten million human beings bought and sold like livestock, but this time around we knew exactly what we were doing. The economy of the South was so dependent on slavery that we had to go to war to get them to stop, and even then they only pretended. Slavery became share-cropping, perhaps the greatest rebranding in history. And lest you think we’re past that, have a look at for-profit prisons. How do you think those prisons make that profit? By using the prisoners as a cut-rate labor force. And who suffers the great majority of incarceration? Black men. Slavery never ended, it was just given a fresh coat of paint.

Once again, for the people in the back: it’s 2016, and we’re still selling people into slavery in the United States of America.

We live in a country where it’s becoming illegal to grow your own food (see Michigan), generate your own electricity (Florida), or collect rain water (Colorado). Meanwhile, corporations are buying fresh water from drought-stricken areas and selling it back to us in plastic bottles. We’re so “free” that an entire community has been drinking poisoned water for more than two years, and even after being made aware of the problem the government hasn’t done a goddamn thing to solve it. We have trillions to make war against countries that are no threat to us, but nothing left over for the poor, the needy, the desperate — even when the poor, needy, and desperate are veterans of those very wars.

Freedom of speech? Tell that to Andrew Cuomo, who has forbidden New York state from doing business with companies boycotting Israel. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure? The courts have just ruled that computers connected to the internet have no expectation of privacy, and police can seize your assets for any or no reason and use them to buy surplus military equipment. Freedom to assemble? Not if you’re black, or within five hundred yards of a politician. Due process? See: terrorist watch list.

I could go on. The point is, there’s no justification for calling the United States “the land of the free.” Whatever progress the Fourth of July is meant to celebrate is a mere illusion, shadows on the cavern wall that we mistake for freedom only because we’ve never known the real thing. Our birthright is free will, the ability to choose, and to shape the world through our choices. That is freedom, and it is stolen from us the moment we take our first breath.

I dream of a world where every human is free to forge their own destiny. Where they can choose to join the system, have a say in it, share in its benefits, or choose to leave and make a go of it on their own. I dream of a world where the dignity of every human being is respected without question, where we work together to elevate one another and the species as a whole. A world where the system works for all of us, and helps us all to find and reach our potential.

The United States can become the “land of the free,” but it must first be the “home of the brave.” To be free, we must live without fear. We must demand that our leaders serve us and our interests, rather than doing the bidding of the corporations and bankers. We must make right the sins of our past, and move forward together to build a better world for us all.

Every new day is a chance to do better. Let’s get on it, America.

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