We should enjoy our freedoms. And we should remember how our freedoms were won: through war and protest:
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
After centuries of war and multiple civil rights movements, which are ongoing, most of us have our freedoms. Legally speaking, freedoms are just handed to us for being here in America, especially if we are born here. Our speech is protected by the First Amendment even when we lack eloquence, graciousness, and kindness. Our protests are protected by the First Amendment even when we ask for other people’s freedoms to be diminished. Our right to vote is protected, even though we despise most of the people we elect.
On an individual scale, we are not legally obligated to earn our freedoms and we were not obligated to use our freedoms wisely or appropriately. But every generation, our conception of freedom mutates. Collectively, we need to have integrity and we need to be worthy of our freedoms. It is not enough to tell the next generation what we think freedom means. We must show them through our actions. A people who does not deserve freedom will not have it for long.
Freedom contains the promise that we can move forward to a better understanding of our place in a larger scheme of things. Americans once celebrated the Fourth of July while other Americans were in chains:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Can we celebrate the Fourth of July today, when so much remains to be done? Yes, because we are celebrating our freedoms: the tools we must use to bring about change. The Fourth of July was just the beginning:
Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ringbolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.