It's Independence Day in the US of A, occasion for cook-outs and drinks, games and fireworks, and maybe a moment to think about how white landowners shed the yoke of tyrrany.* In fact, I just heard a collection of tourists on the DC Mall read the Declaration of Independence on NPR.
Then they cut to Boston, where coverage focused on the increased security following the marathon bombing. As in many other places, the celebration is marshalled by multiple police forces and monitored by more cameras and copters than ever. People on the street were a little bothered by this, but nobody who made it on air was upset enough to question the necessity of such measures, and one woman summed it up with the words, "Freedom isn't free."
This phrase is the teflon of the Security state, slippery doublespeak in the service of un-freedom. To enjoy our Freedom, we are told, we must accept overseas wars and sacrifice privacy at home. I feel for the kid blown apart in the Afghani mountains, or the one who survived the fight for Fallujah, but the people they were fighting weren't a threat to my Freedom. Not compared to the Patriot Act passed by our own Congress, or dismissal of freedoms including the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, or the prerogative to listen in and even kill us claimed by the Executive. And that's not even getting to the corporations who own all of the above.
The fact is, it's bondage that isn't free. The costs of militarizing our borders and our police, maintaining force around the globe, and watching every bit of communication are enormous, both to our lofty ideals of freedom and to the bottom line. The impulse to classify so much of this activity makes it even more expensive on both accounts, especially since that secrecy compromised so easily (but selectively, and as often to achieve specific political outcomes as to shine a light on mischief). Meanwhile, my freedoms are trumped again and again by the freedom of corporations to shed the expenses of pensions or keeping air and water clean, and to use infrastructure purchased with government revenue that they themselves avoid paying (along with the environmental and social costs routinely excluded from the ledger).
And what if we stopped acting like freedom comes from guns and surveillance, and went into the rest of the world with food and music instead? We'd be pulling the recruiting rug from beneath Islamic extremists and other terrorists. What if we invested in educating citizens rather than incarcerating them? We'd have a more productive society. What if we stopped transferring our national wealth to Lockheed Martin and their ilk, or legislating on behalf of Monsanto? We'd free up money to make our chunk of earth a better place to be for generations to come. What if we tolerated diversity and dissent instead of fencing it into oxymoronic "1st Amendment Zones?" We'd have a more vibrant democracy, and more people would feel like they have a stake in freedom.
If Freedom isn't absolutely free, it sure as hell is a lot cheaper than Security as the Bush and Obama administrations have sold it to us. For every uprising against British oppression, for every beating endured in Selma, there are many more senseless dead among our own young and those unfortunate enough to be in the way of our war machine wherever it happens to be that month. There are times when protecting freedom requires a sacrifice, but rarely one that involves blood. More like talking with your kids about how the government operates (or should, anyway) instead of having another beer and blowing something up. Or deciding to get up, stand up, and speak out against complacency with AmeriCo's brand of fake Freedom.
* Setting in motion that process that would break the chains of human bondage in less than 90 years, guarantee women's right to vote after a gross 144 years, grant citizenship and voting rights to Native Americans even later, and finally protect minority voting rights from 1965 until last week.