Final Stretch, 29 & 30. Freedoms.
Today is that glorious Fourth, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, in protest against a King that claimed his Divine Right still existed, over a century after King Charles I had been executed for that reason, among others.
Despite having lived more in Spain than in the United States, at this point, Yankee Doodle still sings itself in my head today. If today hadn't been a Sunday, it would have been a normal day, here. Other years, I did try to grill some lunch, much like we used to do at the beach in days gone by. This year, it's too chilly and damp to try to light the fire.
I remember Fourths in my childhood in which we would go to City Point beach out by Castle Island, in South Boston. We would take a hibachi in those years, with steaks in a cooler to plop over the coals. My mother, who did not want anyone to go hungry, would also have made complete meals during the morning, and packed the pots with them into bags. My parents didn't care much about the Fourth, they were simply glad to have a day off in the middle of the week.
At night, some years we watched the Boston Pops concert at the Hatch Shell by the Charles River, and the fireworks that were televised right at the end. I would then say I wanted to go to the following year's concert. One year, my mother and I finally went. In our search for a spot to sit on the grass, we travelled along, almost to the end of the park. It was obvious we weren't about to find a spot in front of the Hatch Shell; that was all filled up days ago, as people started camping out on the spot to save it. There were loudspeakers set up, and the highlight was the fireworks, right after the 1812 Overture. I had bought a tripod just for the occasion, and was happily taking pictures I still have, somewhere. Walking back to the subway station, we discovered just how many people were squeezed onto the banks of the Charles. It took us over an hour to navigate our way onto the nearest side streets.
When I took my daughter to visit Boston, in 2005, we also went to the concert. We had spent the day in town, and towards evening we joined the hundreds of people walking in the same direction. I think, by that hour, Storrow Drive, a highway running parallel to the Charles River, had been cut off for traffic, to help the movement of large amounts of people. Again, my daughter and I traipsed long to find a small square of grass to spread our (folded) towel on to sit. Again, the high point was listening to the 1812 Overture, and then watching the fireworks unfold over the river. Again, we slowly found our way out of the maze to the nearest subway station, where we caught one of the last trains of the night out to Roslindale, where we were staying with a friend of the family.
But the Fourth is more than barbecues, concerts, and fireworks. It's about the founding of a country based on radical ideals from a century earlier. It's about a group of colonists fed up with having their wealth controlled by a King and a Parliament that were only interested in the money to be made from them. Which is ironic, since the United States has become one of the foremost countries in the world that believes amassing wealth any way one can is good.
The reason for independence applied by the writers of the Declaration was that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Over the years, the understanding evolved that the document declared the United States a free country.
But the only mention of freedom was that the colonies declared themselves to be "Free and Independent States." It was a statement saying that the colonies were free from Great Britain, not that they were "free" in the sense we understand it now. It wasn't even declaring the foundation of the United States of America as the country we know, but the foundation of independent states. The document merely insists on "freedom" as the colonies being free of rule from London.
So, when some people affirm that the Fourth of July means that from that date we gained our freedom, it's not quite true. It's the date we declared we wouldn't continue to be exploited by King and Parliament. Besides, what is freedom?
Nowadays, many Americans will simply affirm that the United States is a country where you are free to do whatever you want, and that no other country in the world is as free. Well, that depends. In Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and other European countries, you are free to go where you want, live where you want, study what you want, work at whatever you want. You can say what you want, be with whom you want, read what you want, opine what you want. You can choose whether to follow a religion, or not. You can choose whether to stay home or join every get-together, party, celebration, meeting, protest, or sports event you want. So, the United States does not have a monopoly on those types of freedom.
There are other freedoms, though. There is freedom from want. Not every country does well in this respect. People who have low income in many countries, find that they have to do without necessities. Some countries try to help out with supplemental incomes, but they aren't always enough. Necessities also change with the area and the years. Internet is now a necessity in many places. In rural Spain, a car is a necessity. Yet, there are countries where many people can benefit from this freedom, much more than Americans. Finnish people can apply for many different kinds of assistance, for example, and be awarded varying amounts. There are less Finns lacking freedom from want than there are Americans.
There is also freedom from illness. With this, it depends on whether nature helps out, or not, but men have developed medicine as an attempt at that freedom. But the United States is far behind many other countries in that regard. Yes, it has very good facilities, but not everyone has access to them. In Europe, everyone is covered, and, in that sense, we can all claim we are free from illness. We simply have to go to the doctor whenever we suspect something wrong, without anyone saying, "Unless it's an emergency, we can't help you, if you don't have insurance."
There's the freedom to form a family. In today's world, this freedom is related to freedom from want, and, unfortunately, many people find themselves unable to start a family because they don't have the means to do so. However, some are encouraged by paid parental leave that many countries offer. Some even pay parents a certain amount for each child until the child reaches a certain age, such as twenty years of age in France, if a couple has two children. There are generous payments in their first years, and generous tax deductions in many countries. But, not in the United States. There is no paid parental leave, unless the parent works for a generous employer, and then not for months, or even a year, like in other countries.
Freedom? Freedom is relative, depending on what you are looking to be liberated from. But the United States is no longer the paladin of freedom it once was. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is in danger in the very country that once championed it. And the United States deserves more.