Freedom. That loaded word bandied about by everyone from presidents warning us that our enemies hate us for having them, to advertisers selling adult diapers. That word sprinkled liberally throughout the documents announcing the creation of this country, and featured in every anthem and pledge associated with its founding.
Freedom. That word that evokes in us the pride of our nation, at having achieved that evasive state sought by doomed empires of old. That word for which soldiers have died and killed; that word that symbolizes all that is great about the Great U.S. of A.
And what does that word really mean today? We are free from chattel slavery, but not from the economic variety. We are free to seek education, but not to actually find it. We are free to enjoy the best health care money can buy – or not. We are free to live in comfort and safety, as long as we can afford it. And the only ones who can do all that are the rich.
As for everyone else, what are our freedoms? What guaranteed rights do we have? Life? Not when sitting in a Starbucks While Black is a crime, and Black Lives Don’t Matter. Freedom? Tell that to the millions of incarcerated poor people of color in this gulag of a country. Pursuit of happiness? Pretty tough to do when you are scratching for survival, uneducated, under-employed, broke busted and disgusted with life.
We have no right to housing – witness the burgeoning homelessness and the plight of people living under freeways across America. We have no right to jobs – unemployment is low but wages are stagnant and generally insufficient to pay the cost of living. We have no right to healthcare unless we’re poverty-stricken -- but we have the right to buy it at exorbitant prices with astronomical deductibles. We have no right to education – not when the attack against public education has rolled across the country like a giant steamroller flattening the tax bases right along with children’s futures.
Our taxes pay for public services, true, and they are dwindling as fast as our paychecks. Don’t believe me? Try calling a non-emergency city or county service in most jurisdictions and see what happens to your request for services. Nothing. And let’s face it, most people don’t need police or firefighters more than once or twice in a lifetime, if that.
Infrastructure like highways and tunnels and bridges and subways and water systems are crumbling, and our ecology is being plundered by the search for fossil fuel to further pollute the air.
So what are we getting from membership in this vaunted club? If you’re rich, you pretty much get all the trappings of the promised freedom this country claims to stand for. If you’re not, let’s hope that license plate slogan for New Hampshire is just that – ‘cause if “Live Free or Die” is a choice, it’s already been made for you.