Independence Day, the 4th of July, let freedom ring – but are we ‘free at last?’ Today is a day that means a lot to Americans, or at least it should. In many other countries, especially African countries, independence days receive more than just one day and have celebrations that take over weeks. Here we celebrate with fireworks, family get togethers, remembering the troops, community events, and other random events set for just one day. Independence Day is something we have come to take for granted. We know that we are independent and ‘free,’ but we do not really understand what that means. We shoot off fireworks, blasting explosions in the sky, shaking our bodies – but what we do not realize is that ‘bombs bursting in air’ means something completely different to the rest of the world. Explosions, bursts of light do not represent independence in many places – these are signs of danger and create fear. A rocket’s red glare has a frightening consequence and that does not end often in freedom. I began really thinking about how people from other parts of the world would view our independence day when I attended the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine the summer of 2003.
The camp brought together teens from areas of conflict to learn dialogue and conflict resolution and more importantly learn that kids on the other side of the conflict were just like them. It was an amazing experience and helped to set my future path studying international relations. While I was there the 4th of July happened and there was a worry that the booms and explosions from the fireworks might frighten or panic some of the campers during the night. This is when I became aware of the fact that while we enjoy setting off fireworks for fun, independence is not so fun in other parts of the world and, sadly, independence is not for everyone to enjoy.
Since I just returned from Ghana I can say that there were huge celebrations for Ghanaian independence, the first African country to gain independence from their European colonizers, Britiain. They had month long celebrations since it was their 50th anniversay of gaining independence and even while I was there three months after the celebrations, events to celebrate independence were still happening. Ghana is independent, but right after their independence not everyone was free. There was political, economic, and social troubles before Ghana reached its relatively stable situation today. I wonder if the US ever had this problem? Or have we even tackled this problem? We are independent from our ‘homeland,’ but does everyone have freedom. Is independence synonomous with freedom? We are free in the sense of George Washington and the founding fathers, but we are not free in the sense of Martin Luther King Jr. – the price of freedom is often talked about, but do we truly understand its full meaning? The price of freedom is at your doorstep and within your own self. What do you appreciate about being free?
Safely home finally from the National Summit for my fellowship with Young People For and the closing statements are still ringing in my ears. The only female and ‘african-american’ representative from Minnesota reminded the fellows that progress goes only as far as you are willing to take it. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day – we engage in community service, leadership conferences, and remember the amazing contributions of a person who most would agree was more than an ordinary man. What that is, isn’t so easy to define.
Today at the last day of the National Summit I experienced an incredible energy. Our last session with our state groups we joined in a circle, holding hands, and spoke of our inspirations. The human contact and the energy of those few fellows was nearly overwhelming, no joke. The closing ceremonies and wrap-ups were just as powerful. The energy and fire in the hand of lady liberty was replicated and immensly intensified by the fire of passion in that auditorium of the NEA.
The power and passion and energy in that final session was overwhelming. And through all the speakers and fellows speaking I was so impassioned that and my own energy was so built up that I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream and release this fire. I looked around the auditorium and I saw the future of America, I saw the future of our world. I saw the future because I know that I will see everyone of the fellows later in life – holding an office or running a progressive movement organization. I know that I will see everyone with great leadership roles in the future changing the future of America with passion!
I remember the CEO of YP4 bringing up Kennedy’s speech in South Africa, talking about the ripple effect of each person and as more people join on the ripples grow. Each person has the potential to make a difference in the world, we just need to decide what kind of a difference we will make and further joined with one another we can make a huge difference. We are the tsunami of change that this country and world is waiting for. We will wash out the halls of government where stagnation is unbearable. We will clear the minds of those who have forgotten the ideals that our great country is founded upon and we will instill a belief in equal rights for all people. There will not be enough buckets for the extreme right to bail out of the hole they have dug. Progress will soar to the fore-front and our actions will defeat the opposition’s rhetoric.
To paraphrase something a fellow said during a fishbowl, “we walk not because we are heading to a promised land, but we walk because it is progress. . .” Last night I stood on the Lincoln Memorial steps where Martin Luther King Jr. stood to deliver his speech on civil rights. It was an amazing site, looking out on the reflecting pool and the surrounding area, imagining a mass of people filling the the steps and surrounding area to a breaking point, and dreaming of the day when the next great progressive leader will deliver a speech to re-invigorate and enlighten America. After this MLK day join the walk, step by step we will bring back the progressive ideals that appeal to all people. What will you do tomorrow?