When I count my blessings, at the top of my list is the freedom we enjoy as Americans. Think about it: we get in our cars and drive across town or across the country without having to obtain some government agency's permission. We're free to listen to or read or watch anything we want to, however bizarre, outrageous or provocative it may be. We the people elect our politicians, and we are free to cast our votes without coercion. We can live wherever we want, aspire to any profession we want...in short, we can pretty much do whatever we want as long as it's legal.
Artists and other creatives in America enjoy extraordinary freedom of expression. If I want to create art with a scathing political message, I can do so without fear of being hauled out of my house in the middle of the night and executed because my message runs contrary to that of some despot who has been thrust into power by a military junta rather than elected by the people. If I want to create art with a religious theme or gay art or socially offensive art I can do all of those things without being censured. My art may not be appreciated, nor embraced by the public, nor receive anything but scorn and derision from critics, but in America I won't be imprisoned or tortured for having made it.
Freedoms like these are, unfortunately, not universal. In too many countries, to express a negative view or opinion about the current regime is enough to get a person killed. Just ask Cuban-Americans who fled to the U.S. to escape Fidel Castro. At Castro's orders, his henchmen rounded up and summarily executed thousands of "dissidents" -- ordinary citizens, many artists included -- who dared to criticize Castro and his policies. Ask South America's's museum curators and administrators who were forced to display only art that supported the policies of a despotic regime. If they refused, they were replaced and punished. Ask Salmin Rushdie what it's like to be hunted down by religious zealots with a stone age mentality trying to assassinate him -- all because he wrote a book they didn't like.
Atrocities and injustices like these are all too common in countries that continue to deny their people freedom. Enjoying the freedom we know here in the U.S., it's hard for us to truly comprehend what it must be like to live under such conditions. We may think we know, or try to imagine it, but the harshness of having to live under oppression of that magnitude is simply beyond our comprehension.
On this Memorial Day weekend, I am grateful beyond words to the men and women of America's military who've sacrificed their lives so that we can continue to live in unparalleled freedom. Without their service and dedication, we'd be dreaming of freedom but certainly not living in freedom. History is rife with tragic examples of how very difficult freedom is to secure, and how easily it can be lost. It's good to remind ourselves that we are not immune to the latter. We must not subscribe to the notion that this amazing freedom we've been granted by the Constitution is "too big to fail."
Our service members are acutely aware of this, exposed as they are to other cultures and countries around the world. Most of us civilians, however, aren't privy to the same degree of exposure our service members have to cultures that deny human beings their freedom. Going about our lives here at home, few of us know what it's truly like to live under brutal oppression.
But our military service members do know, serving as they do in areas where people often suffer oppression. It's why America's defenders -- all of whom volunteer to serve -- willingly give their lives, when necessary, to keep that fate from happening to us. They're what stands between us and the unthinkable. So as I enter my studio to begin today's work, I am profoundly grateful to these selfless heroes. And I am reminded that as a citizen enjoying freedom's benefits, I, too, have a responsibility to help extend it to everyone and to oppose freedom's suppression wherever that suppression is encountered. This quote by Earl Riney sums it up best: "Freedom without obligation is anarchy; freedom with obligation is democracy."
©2017 Lynn Edwards