Power and freedom

Dear President Biden,

I’m not sure what happened, but it seems like the Twitter-verse went into a time warp because a piece in the Atlantic by Ibram X. Kendi from two years ago appeared in Laura’s stream this morning. She didn’t realize it was old and pulled it up for me to read, which was sweet and which I did. And I didn’t realize it was old until probably about two-thirds of the way through when he started talking about Trump’s plans to celebrate the 4th at the Lincoln Memorial, at which point I felt sort of lurchy and honestly wondered if Trump had somehow gotten a permit to hold a rally there this year. I was relieved, though, when I checked up top and found that the date was July 4th, 2019 and could be reasonably certain that Trump wasn’t holding a rage-fest anywhere near Lincoln’s feet. But damn if everything but the Trump/Lincoln Memorial deal wasn’t still wholly relevant.

Kendi’s premise is that most all of us aren’t truly free because most all of us don’t have power, power being a prerequisite for freedom and not the other way around. And, he observes that the deal for us in this country is that throughout our history, those in power (i.e., wealthy White men) have done everything in their power to maintain their disproportionate power – as true a statement at our founding as it was in 2019 and still is in 2021. He didn’t say this part, but I think it would have been reasonable to say “by hook or by crook.”

Toward the end of the piece, Kendi says that “To believe freedom comes before power is to stifle the struggle to equalize power.” He goes on to say “There is no more docile slave than one who believes he or she is free.” Basically, around here, freedom’s been framed as the be all end all. After all, the song says that America is “the land of the free and the home of the brave” so we’ve got it made, don’t we? Plus, look at all the free will we have to choose exactly the brand of toilet paper we like the best and we have fifteen options for ketchup if we prefer one of those to the twenty brands of barbeque sauce on the shelves. If that ain’t freedom, then what is? And if we’re so taken up with all these awesome choices, who has time to worry about things like power or the ability to shape policy?

Sorry, not sorry, but I’m feeling snarky on this 4th of July evening as we head towards sunset and the inevitable illegal fireworks that scare the bejeezus out of our little dog, keep us awake far too late, and endanger us all because we’ve not had any rain since last week’s horrible heat. We humans are a menace to one another, to the other animals we share the planet with, and to the planet itself. But hey, anyone who can score whatever fireworks they want has the freedom to shoot them off and feel all powerful for a night because up here in ultra-White Northeast Seattle we know damn well there won’t be any enforcement of the ban on such things.

Maybe I’m especially fired up because I started the day with Langston Hughes’s poem Let America Be America Again and followed it with excerpts from Fredrick Douglass’s 1852 4th of July speech to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, then the Kendi piece.

It was a lot. And it just barely grazed the surface.

May we all be safe from fireworks and false freedoms.
May we be willing to poke and prod the bill of goods we’ve been sold (literally).
May we be strong enough to hold out for real power.
May we accept that our collective situation is dire and we cannot afford to leave power in the hands of those who don’t give a shit about anyone besides themselves.

Tracy Simpson

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