While it is probably true that we in the US have more freedom than most people who have ever lived, it is also true that those freedoms can be suspended if we actually challenge the power hierarchy. In other words, we are free as long as we stay in our place, but pepper spray, fire hoses and possibly prison await those who actually rock the boat. John Stoehr has written a brief article for Al Jazeera English looking under the mask of freedom in the US. Most of the article focuses on modern examples but he quoted a hero of mine, Eugene Debs:
“In 1918, Debs visited three socialists in jail for dodging the World War I draft. Afterward, he walked across the street to give an impromptu speech that enraptured onlookers for hours. Because of this speech, Debs was eventually found guilty of violating the Espionage Act, a deeply un-American set of laws that are still in effect (in fact, the Obama administration is using the laws against Bradley Manning, who leaked secrets to WikiLeaks). These laws are designed to crush criticism of the state. The irony of Debs’ time may be the irony of ours: “They tell us we live in this great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people,” Debs said to his audience. “That is too much, even for a joke.”
It is important to appreciate the freedoms we have. It is also important to use those freedoms to push back the powers that control our lives. Freedom has to be more than deciding which rich person gets to tell us what to do.