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what are you celebrating today?
and what are you fighting for?
July 4, 2022 — this is a living document (last updated 8/11/22 at 12:21 pm local time)
What do you believe in? I believe in freedom, too.
But, what does that mean? To me, it means living: breathing clean air, free of pollution; drinking clean water, free of lead, arsenic, and whatever else may poison our waters; it means growing and eating nutritious, nourishing food.
Freedom means sharing these elements of life with family, friends, neighbors, and relatives. It means physical and emotional safety: free of violence, including, and perhaps especially, state violence. In this sense, freedom is peace.
It is reciprocal, not narcissistic, blending personal autonomy with mutual responsibility such that all may self-determine and actualize. This means we are all free to make personal health decisions, but remain accountable for their reverberating effects on community health and well-being.It also means reproductive freedom.
Thinking critically is thinking freely. That is: observing and examining oneself while observing the world is free thinking. It is conceiving the present as the confluence of past and future, and thus, knowing our pasts and futures are indivisibly intertwined: that they are—and therefore we are—interdependent.
In this sense, freedom is solidarity and union. It is also socioeconomic mobility, not soul-crushing debt like that thrust upon generations seeking a better, more fulfilling life. In essence, freedom is power in the course of one’s own destiny.
The Declaration of Independence changed the course of history. It is revolutionary by verse and action—promising a democratic culture it: absolves all political connections with King George III; purports universally inalienable rights; decries tyranny; and imagines a new form of government based on consent, where power is organized to secure the “Safety and Happiness” of “the People.”
What people, though? It certainly wasn’t the 600 people Jefferson enslaved by force of law in his lifetime. Nor was it “the merciless Indian Savages,” whose only crime was already living on land he and his elite contemporaries wanted.
The Declaration lists twenty-seven ways King George violated the laws of nature. Most of these grievances describe with shocking precision the colonists’ conduct towards those peoples they pillaged, chained, trafficked, and killed.
“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people,” Jefferson charged.
So, this historic Declaration at once decries tyranny and enables it. By declaring political independence from King George III and political control of the continent, the document is necessarily a declaration of war on both George and the people already living there. The war against George ended after eight years. The war of manifest destiny continues today on ever-evolving, profit-driven frontiers.
Perhaps that is why there is always money for war in public budgets, with frequently enthusiastic support from those who identify as “fiscal conservatives.” $800 billion annually to the department of defense, more than the next nine countries combined. $40 billion in a snap for the war in Ukraine. And billions more in unaccountable funds for federal and local police. Who do these massive investments keep safe?
Whose freedom do they actually secure? About 2 million people are imprisoned in the U.S. right now. That is more than 20% of the world’s prison population, though the U.S. is only about 5% of the world’s total population. Most of these people held in jails (as distinct from prisons) have been convicted of nothing. NOTHING. They are locked up awaiting trial and cannot afford bail.
Uncoincidentally, the most criminalized and incarcerated populations today are the descendants of those originally colonized and racialized peoples. “Slavery Never Ended,” A Growing Culture concludes: “When oppressive forces violently dispossessed these communities, they stole not only their lands but also their freedom.”
Disappearing people ensures the safety and happiness of no one. It only compounds harm. “Imprisonment is,” Angela Davis clarifies, “the punitive solution to a whole range of social problems … not being addressed by those social institutions that might help people lead better, more satisfying lives.” She continues:
Instead of building housing, throw the homeless in prison. Instead of developing the educational system, throw the illiterate in prison. Throw people in prison who lose their jobs as a result of deindustrialization, globalization of capital, and the dismantling of the welfare state. Get rid of all of them.
More police, jails, and prisons, or “stronger” borders, are not solutions to displacement and deprivation. They are its agents. Fully-resourcing health and educational systems, as well as a civilian climate corps would be a good start.
“Imagine if the US military had to hold a bake sale to keep its doors open, while life-giving and sustaining programs were fully funded and never in fear of disappearing.” Red Nation poses in The Red Deal.
“The duty of today,” Frederick Douglass instructs, “is to meet the questions that confront us with intelligence and courage.” To live freely today and into the future, then, is to accept the interdependent responsibilities of living.
Simple enough. Yet, there’s a tendency among elites to villainize broadly popular, all-embracing solutions to climate change and mass incarceration, like the Green New Deal, Universal Healthcare, a debt jubilee, and returns of land stolen through warfare and broken treaties.Their preferred moderate compromises refer to ineffective, piecemeal alternatives—wholly inadequate measures, leaving the status quo firmly in place and suffocating hopes of a free, livable future.
I know we can think further, broader, and more creatively. We can reject and repair the spiritual and structural corrosion of colonization, racialization, and criminalization. In the name of freedom, we have to.
Democracy is a collective project by nature. It calls us to declare, embody, and practice interdependence so we all may live safely and freely. A democracy so true has yet to exist in this world built by Global Racial Empire, as Olúfémi Táíwò terms it.
“The just world we are trying to build is a better distribution system, by apportioning rights, advantages, and burdens in a better manner than the one we’ve inherited from the global racial empire,” Táíwò explains. This begins by building honest, reciprocal, mutually accountable relationships—by Declaring Interdependence:
At this turning point in our relationship with Earth, we work for an evolution: from dominance to partnership; from fragmentation to connection; from insecurity, to interdependence.
That’s why today I’m choosing to celebrate the people and communities building movements for genuine, universal liberation. I’m celebrating those organizing their workplaces; those imagining and creating abolitionist alternatives to prisons and policing that actually keep communities safe; and those who manage resources with future generations in heart and mind: water protectors and indigenous activists throughout the world, protecting the biodiversity that makes life possible. These are genuine freedom fighters. And this is the freedom I believe in.
That’s what I’m writing for, living for, and celebrating today. How ‘bout you?
Special thank you to my Aunt Kath for allowing use of her work in this piece. All are oil on canvas. You can follow her work and wanderings on Instagram @herlihypaoli.
Thank you also to my friend and editor Madeleine Brink.
Read Rachel Bluth, ‘My body, my choice’: How vaccine foes co-opted the abortion rallying cry (July 4, 2022). Available here.