William Faulkner once said, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
I was reading the constitution for my upcoming speech competition when I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of oddities I came across looking in on a 200-year-old document. For example, the line “All men are created equal” does not support America’s feministic struggle over the past six decades. The bill of rights which states “No person shall be ordered to quarter any soldier during war” does not apply to our time, as most of our wars are fought in other nations. The argument that this piece of paper can declare all Americans free forever is simply naive.
The freedom that America promises has fueled its success for centuries. America, at her core, is the world’s symbol of freedom and equality. This is why millions of immigrants spend years waiting for visas and green cards, why expectant mothers risk their lives crossing borders, why refugees die of hunger waiting for political asylum. They are all chasing the principle of freedom inscribed in the United States Constitution, heard in American music, broadcasted on international television in speeches and elections. The whole world sees us as a free nation. But are we truly free?
We claim to have freedom of expression, speech, press, and religion, suffrage, to learn, to go where we choose and to be treated equally no matter who we are. But how can we be free when teenagers like Donald Williams Jr. are being brutally attacked because they tried to express their freedom of speech? How can we be free when women like Shaima Alawadi are murdered while trying to express their freedom of religion? How can we be free when we have yet to learn empathy? Our generation must work harder than we ever have to maintain the freedoms that we are promised. We cannot simply be free as every generation will have the prejudice that needs to be overcome and freedom that will be challenged. We must strive to transcend the barriers of prejudice and inequality that will arise with each generation. We must follow the words of Atticus Finch, a fictional hero from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel takes place in a time when the freedom of black people was undermined and slowly being challenged. Atticus says “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
As a nation and as a global icon, we must begin understanding the issues faced by the other 300 million Americans, as well as the other 7 billion people on the planet. Until then, we will remain only an imitation of freedom. Because America is only as free as all of its people, and everyone can only be free with equality and integration. Many people say that freedom is earned once and forever, as it was inscribed in the constitution and was fought for in 1775 in the Revolutionary war. However, is the constitution truly set in stone? We cannot be so ignorant as to believe that ink on paper can declare us ‘free’. For example, before Adolph Hitler took control of Germany and stripped every ounce of the freedom of the German people, the country had a tight constitution that gave Germans the same freedoms that we have today. We cannot allow a document written centuries ago to bear the heavy burden of freedom, WE must bear this burden with each new generation. Freedom is not written on paper as paper can be erased, destroyed and forgotten. Freedom must be inscribed in our minds and hearts because a constitution can vanish, but a society working towards acceptance and equality will never be forgotten.