The summer season is freeing. The weather warms, we unravel from the constricting layers we’ve been bundled up in, and we let the sun tinge our pale, liberally uncovered skin. The monotony of regimented schedules give way to a perfectly timed summer break, giving us the space to wander a bit. There’s just something about the season that encourages exploration and makes you feel free.
The summer holidays even celebrate freedom. But as we enjoy a relaxing Memorial Day holiday, do we understand and acknowledge the sacrifices that have been made to allow us these freedoms? Donning our stars and stripes and yelling “‘merica” on Independence Day is a more meaningful exclamation when we recognize the many freedoms we’re afforded, simply by being American.
When colonists sought refuge from persecution, they found freedom on this soil and established this country on that bedrock. Our forefathers radically declared justice and equality for the people of this nation, founded a way of governing on this notion and defined an explicit list of individual liberties, guaranteed rights and personal freedoms for every citizen of this country. Those constitutionally protected freedoms are what our military veterans and current servicemen have fought to keep intact and continue to fight for to this day.
Our guaranteed rights allow us the freedom to express ourselves and speak our opinions, ensure our right to personally decide who or what to worship, allow us to petition for change and even deem us innocent until proven guilty, for example. This idea of freedom, issues regarding our political rights and civil liberties, has put Americans at odds with each other time and time again, and yet, it is the very thing that unites us all.
Each day, without even realizing it, we exercise so many of our rights, while much of the world is not free to do so. According to Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom in the world, only 40 percent of the world’s population is considered free, having an open political climate and respect for civil liberties.
To determine this, Freedom House uses methodologies from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was developed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, in response to the atrocities of World War II. This document defines the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms that all human beings are entitled to. It says that we are all born free and equal, and includes rights such as the right to marriage and raising a family, the right to privacy, the right to a job and fair wages, the right to education, that no one has the right to torture you and no one has the right to force you to leave your country. While the U.S. is one of the world’s freest nations, overall freedom is globally on the decline.
Violent terrorism in the Middle East, information censorship in China, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and even threats to our personal privacy at the hand of federal intelligence agencies and discrimination under the guise of religious freedom on our home turf. If you pay attention to current events, it’s easy to see how everyday, basic human rights are constantly at stake, and our freedom, forever in need of protection.
It’s when we’re aware of the freedoms we’re afforded and recognize that they’re not inherent that we can truly understand what it means to be free. So this month, celebrate Memorial Day appreciating the many brave Americans’ service and sacrifice that make your freedom possible. Be aware of the long line of written history that defines our democratic process and allows and encourages your political participation as you exercise your right to vote in local elections this month, and nationally over the next year. And everyday, as you go where you want to go, be who you want to be, say what you want to say and learn what you want to know, understand that you’re able to exercise these rights because this is the land of the free and home of the brave.