On this Fourth of July, I sit behind fences covered in razor wire, watched over by guards whose job is to seriously curtail my freedom. Tonight we may be able to glimpse fireworks from the local town, but what are we to think upon when they light up the night sky? No one here is "free" in any sense of the word, but we brought this on ourselves. We made choices which put us here. What is your excuse?
I once heard a speech in which a prominent Silicon Valley icon expressed his view that all freedom is economic. It is only when a nation's economy is healthy and the widest swath of its population benefit from this, are the people really free. If you are afraid to leave a job you hate...if you can't leave a city of state because you can't sell your house or don't have a job or have lost your house or can't afford to buy or rent one anywhere else...if your health is held captive by plans you only receive through your employer or because you are dirt poor...if jobs are so scarce or offer such low wages you can't afford to live where you are nor seek to relocate...if workers allow themselves to be pitted against one another in an economic race to the bottom by abandoning the one power they have-to bargain collectively-then how free is anyone in this land on this day?
This nation was founded on a principle of representative government...a republic. Does anyone feel today's government, whether in Washington, Sacramento or locally, represents us or our wishes? Americans in poll after poll say they want more jobs...they want a more robust economy...they want educational opportunities and a chance their children will be able to achieve more than their parents...they want a foreign policy which is honest and which sees solutions outside of the brute use of military force...ironically President Obama is being constantly dinged in popularity because he seems to be listening on foreign policy)...yet, the grease which coats the wheels of government is not popular opinion or popular elections, but rather the billions of dollars ponied up by those for whom the word populist is an anathema.
Would a truly free people allow one half of one percent of the population to keep to themselves 80% of the wealth produced in this country? Wouldn't a truly free people storm the halls of Congress demanding change...demanding the end of special tax breaks...demanding that investment income be taxed at the same rate as income generated by labor...demanding, as they did at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the capitalists share more of their profits with those who produce them?
Would you like something to smile about...a note of optimism...a lesson from history on this Independence Day? Would you like some hope? At the beginning of the 20th century, the so-called Gilded Age, the gap between the rich and poor was as dramatic as it is today, perhaps worse. Congress was bought and paid for by the Morgan's, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Stanford's, Hopkins, Crocker's and Huntington's who also owned most of the media. Yet, people rose up...they elected Progressive politicians...they passed laws making it easier to form unions, outlaw child labor, create a 40 hour work week even the beginning of an environmental movement and the creation of national parks and nature sanctuaries. Monopolies were broken and worker's pay began to rise. The people demanded and got government to mandate cleaner food and drugs and safer places to work. Safety nets were created to keep people from falling so far into poverty it could kill them. All of this was done by Americans, populists who demanded change and received it from the Roosevelt's, Taft's, Lafollette's and others. It can be done.
I am not free today. However, I'm not sure how free I was before I became a guest of the federal government. How free are you? How much do you feel in control of your life or the lives of your children and neighbors? Are you free to express any opinion you wish? Are you free to change jobs, or move to a better city? How free are you to affect the direction of this nation? Are you free from fear and anxiety? Is this a nation where everyone has a shot or has it become a collection of oligarchs where only the privileged few get to participate freely in all the benefits this nation has to offer? Am I significantly less free than you on this 4th of July behind my fences and razor wire?
It would be nice if on this day if we engaged in a few moments of reflection, in between the beer, burgers, dogs and fireworks, on the promise this experiment represented on July 4, 1776. We appear to be at a similar crossroads as were the founding fathers. Will we continue to be oppressed by a far off government which doesn't represent us, or will we again declare our independence and throw off the economic and political chains shackling us at the direction of those who want to preserve an oligarchy very similar to the one in place in London 238 years ago?
I hope you have a glorious holiday and hope even more, after the last sparkler and piccolo Pete is fired, you will step up and demand this nation change for the better from sea to shining sea.