The Fourth of July celebrates of the birth of the United States, its act of finally breaking free from tyrannical England, represented by a reenactment of bombs exploding in the sky. As a nation, we fetishize the loss of life on both sides while we devour factory-farmed meats, consume liquids bottled in poor countries, and with fireworks, literally burn the money we sweat and toil for. We yearn for a respite from our jobs, the right to liberate ourselves for a day from the chains of our work. We are free to trade our bodies, complete with aches and pains, for money. We consider our country the freest on the Earth, with civil liberties we celebrate and cherish like free speech and assembly shrink wrapped to our right to dissent. Yet, as the bombs made by laborers cheaply in other countries for our enjoyment burst in the air, the feeling of true liberation dissipates as quickly as the smoke from a municipal fireworks show. While we eat and drink comfortably in the balmy summer heat, others sit in cold jail cells, imprisoned for their dissent, entrapped by false charges for their own revolutionary ideas which might conflict with the status quo we’ve grown so comfortable with.
The idea we live in a truly free society remains false, with anti-war and anti-capitalist activists imprisoned. Occupy Chicago is currently fighting the state-created case of the NATO5, where Brent, Jared, and Jacob were targeted by Chicago Police before agitating against the NATO summits. In the linked video, they are harassed and threatened before an illegal raid which uncovered home beer brewing supplies that police and prosecutors maintain were a part of a terrorism-related plot. A group of men in Ohio, known as The Cleveland5 participated in a conversation with an undercover FBI agent about property destruction.
“1776- the year of the racist, sexist, classist bourgeois coup. as you light your fireworks in vaguely patriotic gesticulations of nationalism, I’ll be wondering what is wrong with your brain.” - Mark Banks, activist, Occupy Chicago
We are free to trade the authority to raise our children in an education structure that prepares them for minimum wage careers. We are free to lose ourselves in television and shopping, which perpetuates a sense of disconnection with others and allows the state to continue to keep us busy with the banal while going about business as usual. We are free to talk of freedom, of dissent, of the right to protest and speak out against tyranny, provided that tyranny is somewhere else in the past or across the sea.
America is a country forged in war and blood, that has been nursing on ignorance. We believe the ideas of our revered founding fathers were completely revolutionary, and while the idea of “all men created equal” or “freedom of religion” was novel at the time, our continued focus on those ideas blinds us to new, more radical ways of thinking. At the birth of this nation, plenty of revolutionaries still believed it right to own a human being, that a woman couldn’t have a place in government, that some men were more equal than others. Segregation, economic inequality, and sexism are the children of slavery, feudalism and oppression. While slightly more evolved than their parents, it’s still taken hundreds of years for our generation to begin embracing ideas like universal suffrage, equal rights for all people, and a classless society. In successive breaths we trumpet our nation as the freest in the world, yet we lead the world in incarcerations. The founding fathers we so revere revolted at the idea that a government could and should violate the privacy of its citizens, but the government we believe we elected continually builds more surveillance cameras, spies on its citizens and tells us to keep an eye on our neighbors.
“If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles.” – Howard Zinn, author and historian
A few days before the fireworks explode, depression settles over me like ashes. While one of us remains imprisoned, we are all captive. To pretend otherwise is foolish, much like believing in the American Dream where the education system will bolster us to a fulfilling career. Love is not war, love is the healing between struggles, the patching up of wounds and taking care of others who have been brutalized in the struggle for free speech. So when we’re all ooohing and ahhhing over the fireworks the next people who will see bombs bursting in air are the brown people of some kind of “terrorist” religion who are running for cover. While we celebrate freedom, for my dissent, which is the hallmark of a free society, I feel I’m one Police pull-over away from spending years in prison. i know i’m not free. I know with every step I take in to the street to express my dissent, i’m one step closer to seeing my loved ones through the Cook County glass barricade, like my comrades and people of color experience every day. How freely can i, can everyone, celebrate the nation’s birthday while that fear dances along my skin?
Aaron Cynic contributed to this article.