Last week in his farewell address, President Barack Obama said that after January 20th, 2017 he will join you and me as a citizen. He sees citizen as the most important office in a democracy. I think being a citizen in a democracy comes with a cost. It is one of the cost we pay for freedom.
“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.” – President Obama
Frederick Douglass said: “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.” Yes, Mr. Douglass seems to agree that there is a cost of freedom, freedom is not free. If you aren’t interested in working to get it, then you aren’t really interested in freedom.
Malcolm X said: “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.” “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace without freedom.” While dying may not be the extreme that we must go to, we do have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to see that without each of us having the freedom to live our biggest dreams, none of us should be satisfied. All of us should be willing to sacrifice something.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Recent elections have shown us very profoundly that those in power will give up nothing voluntarily. Republicans were even willing to accept someone who least mirrored their purported values in many ways in order to gain power. And they will have no shame in taking affordable health care from 20 million people unless we demand otherwise. Bitterness and hatred on our part will not resolve it but rather we must demand with resolve what we believe is right. And we cannot let up, we cannot concede.
There is an excellent article on five lessons we can learn from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that apply to Trump and I recommend you reading it on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5-lessons-from-martin-luther-king-for-trumps-america_us_5874fae0e4b043ad97e5bf75.
What is the cost of freedom? From President Obama’s farewell address: “Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning. With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. … But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”
For me, the cost of freedom is making choices every day to speak up for what I believe to be right. In the span of my lifetime, it has taken many forms. Sometimes it took the form of telling a senior partner at Arthur Andersen that we needed to do more than recruit at the University of Miami; that recruiting at NABA’s student conferences was important too because diversity mattered (and that was in 1982). Sometimes it took the form of speaking out at a board meeting as the lone dissenting vote when I just didn’t feel the organization was ready for the action being proposed. Sometimes it took the form of a letter to the editor bucking the way the powerful diocese was spending money. I think one of the costs of freedom is speaking up to keep power in check. Unchecked power becomes privilege that thinks it can do whatever it chooses. Trump is surely an example of the extremes of unchecked power up to this point in his life. We cannot let that still be the case once he is President.
There was so much in President Obama’s farewell address that convey lessons for us as we enter these final days of his presidency, and as we launch the resistance that we must engage in as the cost of freedom in the Trump era. To close out this week’s blog, I am sharing more tidbits from his address, they are just so good:
- “A great gift that our Founders gave to us: The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.”
- “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”
- “All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.”
- “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
- “And so we have to preserve this truth with “jealous anxiety;” …It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.”
“Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.” – President Obama
Are you willing to incur the cost of freedom? Keep in mind, if they come for your neighbor in the morning, they could be back for you in the night. Freedom is not free but I am convinced that the cost of freedom is worth it.