When he was four score and seven years removed from the independence that America celebrates today, President Abraham Lincoln surveyed the landscape of both a battlefield and a nation at war and declared in words that we’ve not been able to forget that it was time for a “new birth of freedom.”
150 years later, our wars are scattered all about the globe, but the US seems every bit as fractured as it was in Lincoln’s day. Yet, we have nearly a quarter millennium of history to teach us what new births of freedom might look like (and that they are always needed.)
How then might we celebrate the freedom that has been possible in this place? A few ideas:
1. Watch Freedom Summer, a great new documentary on the radically democratic work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi 50 years ago.
The greatest threat to democracy in American has always been our unwillingness to practice it. Freedom Summer was all about the black people of Mississippi standing up to question America and call us to be true to our most basic commitments.
2. Learn about and support the work of the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq, Palestine, Columbia, and the US/Mexico borderlands.
Nothing threatens democracy in the world today more than US foreign policy that crushes democratic movements and props up military rule. CPT has been following the call of Jesus to get in the way of this kind of violence for over two decades. They’re doing some of the most inspiring work for true freedom in this world that I know.
3. Join the movement to expand voting rights and curb corporate tyranny in the US today.
When in the course of human events the tyrant was a king, America declared independence from British rule. Today, corporations threaten to rule the world. And they have massively funded efforts to misinform the public and roll back voting rights.
No organization in the country is doing more to resist this effort than the Forward Together Movement, led by the NC NAACP’s William J. Barber. You can organize or join a Moral March to the Polls event in your neighborhood or community.
4. Get to know someone coming home from prison and work with them to end mass incarceration in America.
My work with Project TURN has taught me that nothing threatens equal protection in America today more than our permanent criminalization of the more than 60 million people with a criminal record in America today. The problem of the 21st century is the problem of the prison line. But a movement is growing to end mass incarceration, as evidenced by the President’s recent Champions of Change class, honoring folks around the country who are doing this work. (My friend Daryl Atkinson, doing great work with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice here in Durham, was among those honored. Congrats–and Thank You!–Daryl).