On Veterans' Day, I was reminded of FDR's four freedoms as enumerated in his 1941 State of the Union speech. Attending a "members only" Art Institute of Chicago talk about the delicious new exhibit, "Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine", a jumbotron-version of Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" exploded onto the screen. There it was, an impossibly super-sized turkey being easily lowered to the Thanksgiving table by a woman whose arms had never lifted a dumbbell. All I could think of was the four freedoms; what were the four freedoms as I racked my brain to remember the fourth.
Freedom of Speech.
I confess, this one is my personal favorite given my constant use of it. I appreciate it even more when I visit my daughter living in the UK where freedom of speech is not enshrined as a basic right. No wonder the English have a stiff upper lip, as if constantly assessing what may be said without incurring the wrath of the courts and land in the dock. With freedom of speech I have angered friends and family and even strangers; many friends and family who have defriended me on Facebook or cast my emails into the dreaded black hole of SPAM. In St. Louis MO in response to various anti-war 'Letters to the Editor' that were published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I received anonymous, block-printed hate mail. In the days of ricin poisoned letters, my family was concerned. When a news reporter appeared at my door one day, I handed them one of the anonymous letters--hoping the sunlight of a news story would protect me. And anyway, wasn't it the city my darling mother-in-law thought a 1950s idealized Rockwell print? If only she'd known about all of those plastic rosaries attached to hate-filled notes that I found on my car's windshield while living there. Is freedom of speech only for the majority?
Freedom of Worship.
Another freedom that is uniquely American, unsurprising given why some of our ancestors came to America. Again referencing England where there an official religion; a religion that is so much a part of public school education, that religion classes are mandated. Whether chicken or egg, according to the Office for National Statistics 2011 census, 25% of the population claim to have "No religion" with another 7% diplomatically responding, "Not stated." How you view this depends on your lens. Are the British a country of atheists? Or are they religious as represented by the 69% who claim to be Christian, but infrequently are found in the pews? Why does the organization Freedom From Religion Foundation get virulent crank mail from the so-called religious. Is freedom of religion fine, just not freedom from religion?
Freedom From Want.
The Norman Rockwell moment enshrined in the work literally paints America as the cornucopia land of plenty. What could be the problem? With $6 million the average worth of House Representatives-Richie Rich GOPers merrily cut food stamps for the working poor while continuing welfare for corporations and absentee farmers, that also includes members of Congress and their immediate families. Plutocrats buy major cities mayor offices leading a populist winning NYC mayor's office. America celebrates Horatio Alger while inequality is increasing and clearly Americans get it. According to a recent Gallup poll, a whopping 76% support for raising the minimum wage. And despite Chicago's early freeze, there appear to be ever more homeless in the streets. Too many of our neighbors are in need, relying on ever shrinking resources. When those who donated to food banks become the client receiving food, it's time to have a serious conversation.
Freedom From Fear.
What a fearful lot Americans are today. Even my parents who lived in peaceable Cary NC in the 1990s only had three locks on their doors. Today we the people don't question the overreach and glut of spending by the NSA and military; ignoring our infrastructure crumbling about us. The number of xenophobes explodes; along with the attempt by organizations like Southern Law Poverty's Center to track them. Consider an American friend I'll call "Ingrid" (not her name.) Originally from Sweden, she's been in the USA for almost 50 years. Living in North Carolina, her slightly English-accented speech results daily in questions of,"R you a fer-inn-er?" Translation, are you a foreigner? Without missing a beat she peacefully responds, Yep. She says it's just easier. And gun ownership goes up while fewer people go hunting, so why do fewer people need more guns. For the night a young African American goes to a door to ask for help--and BOOM? Shot dead with a gun in the hands of one of the knee-knocker fearful. Where does this fear come from? How many locks do you have on your door?
So enjoy the holidays. Hug the family, yes even that relative you defriended on Facebook. But think about who we are as a country too.