by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
July 4, 2002
LET FREEDOM RING!
There was something just too inviting about the bell that sat in the principal's window during recess. When it came time for that bell to ring, the fun ended and the kids of St. Columbus Elementary School in the hamlet of Chester, N.Y., filed off the playground and back into classes. But one day I picked up a snowball and flung it at the bell just as a nun was reaching to pick it up. Not surprisingly, I found myself dangling by my left ear from the tips of her thumb and index finger a few minutes later. Freedom has always had a price.
It surprised me very little when I heard last year ago that al-Qaida terrorists might aim their weapons at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia's Independence National Park. It is the birthplace of our free and independent nation, the site of the proclamation of our independence from Britain. The cost of ringing that bell was high; most of our Founding Fathers lost all that they owned - and many lost their lives as well - to establish a place for freedom on this earth.
The soldiers who fought under Washington at Valley Forge endured terrible cold and near starvation through a long winter of deprivation and paralysis. Some 226 years later, most of us would be hard pressed to name even five of those soldiers; they didn't make their sacrifice to be "famous to the ages," as Washington wrote.
The Liberty Bell is cracked now, and is never rung. Freedom is not what it used to be, either. It is better known as an ad campaign than an experience; I doubt that in the face of a challenge less than one percent of Americans use their essential freedoms of speech, the press, to assemble, to practice a faith, or even to bear arms, just once a year; many, no matter how often their rights are challenged, never exercise them in their entire lifetimes. Many presume they exist in name only, and immigrants are especially susceptible to believing that the fine words and flags that accompany all the Fourth of July hoopla are just part of show, just as they were back home.
Who can blame them? Underneath the hoopla, there's very little evidence that we are a proud nation of free people who cherish our rights and never let them rust.
Have you ever stood up as a political candidate in a crowded hall that is waiting to hear from candidates and made a speech and gotten thrown out of the hall for it? I have, and if you had, you would know that democracy is not alive and well; almost no one will defend your right to speak. It will certainly not be your newspaper or your radio or local tv station.
Have you ever heard your local ward-heeler, the councilman or mayor make an overtly political speech in your church and stood up to declare that the principle of church and state separation is being violated? I have, and if you had, you'd know that the words of the Constitution are not so highly prized down among the pews.
Have you ever written a letter to the editor to protest coverage that was badly warped to fit someone's business, political, social or religious agenda? I have, and if you had, you would know that such letters usually do not get printed.
Have you ever challenged your employer when they demanded that you change what you know to be true to make it what works for the boss? I have, and if you had, you would know what it is like to go hungry every day for months, to walk with the soles of your shoes flapping on the sidewalk, and to be ashamed of the way you smell.
For all but a handful of Americans, freedom is the grand illusion that we are free to elect the president we want and all our other leaders. But if you were one of the majority that cast your vote for Al Gore, that freedom did not apply. And if you vote for a member of Congress this year, chances are it will be the one you always vote for, because until he or she retires or dies he or she is almost certain to remain there with all the others, fighting to make sure that democracy doesn't happen in his or her district.
One of the saddest things about America is that it has so much unrealized promise. We strike back with terrible weapons when terrorists attack us, but when accountants, corporations and politicians get together to steal us blind we are silent sheep who only wish it would all end soon. It probably will, and not the way you think; remember how it ended before and you'll have a clue as to how it will end again.
Americans have not come fighting back from the attacks of September 11. They have retreated into Webs of security where the spider has come along and paralyzed the freedom center of their brains. Meanwhile, an army and tens of billions of dollars has not caught Osama bin Laden or the fellow who sent anthrax through the mail.
The horrors visited upon Palestine and Israel have only gotten worse. India and Pakistan are only an arm's length from war, even if that's better than last month. China has not lightened up even a little bit on religious or political dissent even after they got the 2008 Olympics. To celebrate our Independence Day, the security apparatus has declared July 4 a day of terror. You know what?
Give me a snowball.