by Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya
In the towns of America, where knowing all your neighbors and supporting local businesses was the key to thriving and staying safe and happy, the sense of freedom was connected to days and nights filled with safeness and goodwill. This is what made America great. After persecution, war, and risk around the world, people could come to America as a harbor.
In agricultural communities where the farming families joined for large tasks, such as husking corn, shearing wool, or raising a barn, people stayed free by welcoming neighbors and harboring a healthy interdependence. In the cities, celebrations in shared spaces, assistance for journeys, child care and food purchases created the sense of symbiosis.
The curbing of freedom begins when one small group of people quietly gather and separate themselves from the others and choose to participate in something that does not feel right in the gut, the conscience. It is the end of freedom.
The passing of any legal Act that makes a group of people working together for a common goal in business have the same rights as a single individual is the beginning of the slippery slope. That is why corporations were banned in the Declaration of Independence. Yet by the middle of the 1800s, laws quietly included statements advocating corporations as “capable of being treated as a citizen of [the State which created it], as much as a natural person.” Many acts followed that gave corporations legal rights that were explicitly warned by the forefathers of the country.
In reaction came the formation of unions, to protect weaker people from the rising power of corporations. Their leaders quickly became drunken with the power of the collective giving them rights difficult to wield as an individual. Banks used the natural need to gather resources for trade and insurance in times of drought or calamity. They became the excuse for small group of power-hungry people to quietly gather. They cleverly evaded the laws, avoiding attention to the growing distrust of small groups of people controlling resources, labor and the right to make decisions for the people.
Using the power of small groups that legally held the power of the Individual, America began to lose the meaning of the word ‘free’ . Coming from Europe, men who cleared the land of American natives by force and settled in the southern US were not accustomed to the heat, and their families could not easily work the land. Men gathered from local plantations and worked together, initially against their conscience, to justify survival through free labor. They arrived together at the shipping docks and bought slaves who were easily and quickly distinguished through their skin color. Some of the neighbors became the law enforcement. Small groups of men and women got the police to participate in their need for slaves, and then convinced the political elite to ratify it through local laws. Freedom and survival depended on acts of stealing freedom from others.
In the pockets and corners of America where people struggled for survival, dominion over the weaker person became the norm. Slaughtering the American natives became an endearing theme of entertainment on the first television shows, sponsored by corporations. Those who could actually claim the land as ancestral land were quietly relegated to “reservations.” Immigrants were exploited, so they did not take the same responsibility for care of the land as they would if it was their ancestral land. Where was the theme of freedom, the land of the free?
The actual events in history were the true Inconvenient Truths not taught in the textbooks but lingering between the lines, available for the thinking population. When people rose to protest in the 1960s for the right to show the true America, placing televisions and sports, then dance clubs, then cocaine, then cell phones into the hands of growing young minds was the fastest way to stop free thinking.
Luxuries have defined America as the greatest nation on earth. With a penchant for freedom, every parent clamors to get their child an opportunity to study or work in America. Amazing technology, amazing toys, and amazing feats of architecture and space travel have come from America.
But today’s America is asking us to see it and to help it heal from its burdens of karma. The food processing industry has not made America free – it is the source of great illness in its people. The garbage and overuse of plastics and paper have not made America free – it is the source of great illness in its people. The disease management industry of medicine, pharma and public health have not made America free – it is the source of great errors and deaths in its people. The corporations have not made America free – it is their need to enslave the people for their perennial profits and entitlement to monies from the people. America pollutes the seas, the land, the air. And now in the name of freedom it allows people to spread coronavirus freely to each other. What is your role in this myth of freedom in America?
America sings a song of freedom this weekend, in which we gallantly sing while watching fireworks pollute the sky. Do we feed the poor who also want to taste freedom? Ayurveda defines wellness as an entity to think of the ecosystem of which it is a part.
True freedom will reign when we re-learn how to give as part of getting. We will rebuild America when we celebrate the diversity of all immigrants and all colors of citizens, visitors, and people harboring in our land. In the cities and towns of America, visit all your neighbors, especially the elderly. Appreciate the people that labor on our streets and do real public service. Support local businesses. Spend a little more for the farmer’s market and the open shops that belong to individuals not corporations. Demand new laws from your local politicians. Encourage the white men in power to step aside. Demand new laws at work that distribute respect to everyone. Speak to those who are abusers of power and practice your own skills of speaking out. Speak out against Injustice. Rediscover what it takes to thrive and stay safe and happy. Create an ecosystem of freedom, to reconnect to days and nights filled with safeness and goodwill for everyone not just the privileged. This is what Freedom looks like. We cannot all be free until we each are free.
The South Asia Times Columnist Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright Specialist 2018‐2022 in Public Health and Clinical Asst Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. She spent parts of her childhood among the waves of grain in Murdock and Ralston, Nebraska. email@example.com / www.drbhaswati.com