Do We Love Our Freedom?

I’ve written before about my ambivalence about Veterans Day. November 11 was the birthday of my uncle Neville, a gentle soul who came home shell-shocked from World War II, so the family story goes, and never really got his feet under him. As college antiwar activist, I struggled with my hatred of war and what it did to people, and my awe of those who managed to survive it with their humanity intact.

T-shirt close-up. Note blue Trumpbusters T at center and "I'm With Her" arrow on the left.

T-shirt close-up. Note blue Trumpbusters T at center and “I’m With Her” arrow on the left.

Last year Veterans Day was so blustery and wet that the parade was cancelled and the ceremony moved indoors. This year was the exact opposite: a crystal-clear and breezy mid-fall day. It was a perfect laundry day, and that is what I did: laundry. Before three in the afternoon, everything had dried on the line and been folded and put away.

The slogan “If you love your freedom, thank a vet” has been a pet peeve of mine for a very long time. When I consider my freedom, I want to thank Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and hundreds of suffragists whose names I’ll never know. I want to thank civil rights activists and labor organizers and the ACLU.

thank-a-vetThis year, though, I’m looking more critically at that slogan. I’m looking harder than usual at the first part: If you love your freedom . . 

Do we? Really? The country just voted in a guy who admires autocrats and whose idea of freedom seems to be the freedom to fleece, stiff, and exploit.

Not my idea of freedom.

It seems many of this guy’s followers celebrate the freedom to insult and push aside people they don’t like, people they disagree with, people in most cases they know very little about. This may not be what they think they’re celebrating, but the evidence was out there before they went to the polls.

Not my idea of freedom either. Not a freedom worth fighting and dying for. I think many of these people will be surprised if they actually get what they voted for. They’ll probably be angry when they don’t get what they think they were voting for.

Everyone’s the hero of their own story, so the saying goes. Trouble is, our stories overlap, and the hero of your story may be the villain in mine, or at least a frustrating obstruction to progress.

Some people seem to think that their freedom trumps (sorry!) everyone else’s, and that when their freedom to say whatever hateful thing pops into their head is impinged, the republic is on the verge of collapse.

Actually, no — your freedom is not being impinged. Someone may be calling you on your foul language or your foul ideas, but this is not impingement, or censorship either. You have the right to say any damn thing, and I have the right to respond to it.

Do we love our freedom? I think freedom makes many of us very uncomfortable. We’d rather be told what to do than have to make up our own minds. Other people exercising their freedom in our vicinity often freaks us out.

What I’m thinking is that if we love our freedom, we’re going to have to think about freedom means, how the freedoms of diverse individuals can coexist and even support each other. Most of all, we’ve got to give freedom some exercise. Otherwise it will wither and die, and the whole U.S. military won’t be able to save it.

Short version: If you love your freedom, use it. Freedom dies for lack of practice. Thank the vets for their service, but your freedom and mine is mostly up to us civilians.

 

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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11 Responses to Do We Love Our Freedom?

  1. Right on, Susanna. As always.

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  2. Juleann says:

    Thank you for writing about this, Susanna. I experienced intense emotions on Friday with Veteran’s Day falling so closely on the heels of this election.

    There have been few military wars sincerely fought for the purpose of American freedoms — certainly none since WWII and perhaps only the Civil War before that. Most are fought to assert US dominance, or to gain access and/or ownership of resources that do not rightfully belong to us. And yet, we are made to feel “unpatriotic” when we don’t buy into the line that it’s all about protecting democracy. I am tired of having my patriotism defined by whether I display a flag or have served in the military. I choose to define patriotism as participating, being engaged, showing up.

    It is important to remember that the military and all of our vast law enforcement system is based on authoritarian structure, which by its very definition incorporates all the “-isms”. (Race, sex, etc.) It should come as no surprise so many of the people from these systems were vocally supportive of Mr. Trump.

    However, I think whatever motivated people to vote for Trump was complicated and we need to tread lightly. I believe liberals also “insult and push aside people they don’t like, people they disagree with, people in most cases they know very little about.” Without a doubt the message has been loud and clear — if you are voting for Trump, you must be stupid. Liberals are protective of the muslim religion, but outwardly critical and dismissive toward evangelical christians — when, in my book, both faiths equally restrict freedom and are based on authoritarian (“-ism”) structure.

    I honestly don’t understand people who vote against their own self-interests. However, I want to defend their right to do so. I want to find a way to be more understanding of the environment that led them to vote for Trump because we are all responsible for ignoring their pain, for thinking we are just more right than they are.

    I think we need to be careful about thinking we “know what is racially or sexually motivated”. People are afraid and angry — on both sides. Maybe it would be better to start with acknowledging that common ground first.

    (P.S. None of this is meant to imply that I am not scared shitless about the Trump/Pence win and worried sick about who the duck is going to get appointed to the cabinet. We have our work cut out for us.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • We do have our work cut out for us, and on several fronts. I totally agree that what motivated people to vote for Trump is complicated. It’s not unrelated to what motivated people to vote for Sanders. In the months leading up to the convention I often thought that the Trump campaign was what the Sanders campaign would look like in the Bizarro World (did you ever read Superman comics?): wildly and weirdly distorted but still vaguely recognizable. On to the next. I think I’m actually going to register as a Democrat. The only party I’ve ever belonged to was the D.C. Statehood Party, when I first registered to vote as a college student in D.C.

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      • Juleann says:

        Funny, I was just thinking the same thing — to register as a Democrat. I’ve been unenrolled for years. I wish the Dems could let go of their attachment to PROGRAMS though . . . they are so ineffective.

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      • About party affiliation — I’m a political animal but I’ve never been much of an electoral political animal. Electoral politics rarely address the priorities I consider crucial: movement building, community building, fostering creativity, and bringing women into the foreground. I still believe that electoral politics work better when they’re influenced by outside movements, like the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, but those things are barely visible on the Vineyard. We are so bogged down in the details of staying alive.

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  3. I was raised in the military, and consider them my extended family. I even imagine them there a ghostly contingent of supporters when I fall afoul of certain public opinion. But the scary part is that in the end we ARE alone in our values and concerns. It is individuals who become an army when we stand in front of one another and demand it all stop. But it doesn’t mean we get to be heroes, or thanked, or even survive the assault. It does mean that retaining our freedom takes every one of us — even when and especially when — we don’t prefer to agree with each other. Because respect is the cornerstone of freedom.

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  4. Ned Schrems says:

    “It seems many of this guy’s followers celebrate the freedom to insult and push aside people they don’t like, people they disagree with, people in most cases they know very little about.”
    Please compare and contrast this to labeling roughly half the people of the country “deplorables”, to labeling anyone who disagrees with Obama as racist, to claiming that anyone nor supporting Hillary was sexist or misogynist.

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    • “Deplorables” is defined by attitudes. Attitudes are chosen; we’re not born with them, the way we’re born with a certain sex or skin color or in a certain place. We’re all free to embrace or reject and confront sexism, racism, xenophobia, and the rest. That people embrace them is to be deplored, so “deplorable” works for me. Tellingly, some people embraced the label. Their choice. Sexism, racism, xenophobia, and the rest are learned. They can be unlearned.

      I and the moderates, liberals, progressives, and feminists I know disagree with Obama and Clinton on all sorts of things. We also have a pretty good grasp of what’s racially motivated and what isn’t, what’s sexually motivated and what isn’t. I think this is somewhat lacking on the right. Claiming that Obama’s presidency is illegitimate because he was born in Kenya is racist. Criticizing his stand on education reform is not. Criticizing Clinton for her stand on a particular issue. Calling her a cunt, believing that a woman cannot and should not be president, holding her to standards that are not applied to men — yeah, there’s sexism involved there.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lloydthayer says:

    amen! really enjoyed this one…………I’m reminded of an artist I really love, Eugene Chadbourne, who I think shares some common ground with Malvina Reynolds. Back during the hysteria of 9/11, and early Afghan and Iraq ‘wars’, a common battle cry was ‘support the troops’. Eugene wrote a great song, and the chorus of it was ‘quit tellin me to do what I already do, I pay taxes, which support the troops’……..etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Support our troops” generally means STFU if you’ve got any reservations whatsoever about the war in question or the policies that brought it about. It’s a way of silencing dissent, and it’s one reason I’ve always been ambivalent about Veterans Day, and Memorial Day too.

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