Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Like our colleague, Rob, this Fourth of July caused me to reflect on what it means to celebrate our nation. While we can all say we treasure freedom, I often feel as though that word is an abstract term for many of us. Indeed, most Americans are fortunate to have been born into a state of freedom - in the sense that we are not actual slaves. Therefore, when we say we are "thankful for our freedom," do we really have any sense of what it is like to not be free? I am not sure that someone from my generation who is not in the military can really can imagine a true threat to our free lives in the same way an American who survived Pearl Harbor or the Cuban missile crisis can. When we see those bumper stickers that say "freedom is not free," do we really understand laying down our lives in order to live outside of a totalitarian regime, end enslavement, or allow others to escape oppression? I suspect, again with the exception of our veterans of the longest war, not. I think most of us would be perplexed in identifying what role we play in creating the freedom that we enjoy.
But the truth is we play a significant role in achieving or denying freedom. If we define freedom more broadly to include more than freedom from totalitarian government or the institutution of slavery, but consistent with the TVPA's definition of modern slavery- we see we have a role to play in ending it as significant as the minutmemen of 18th century New England.
This point was brought home earlier this week by Pope Francis who reminded us that so much hunger and poverty is cause by the "indifference of many and the selfishness of the few." While we think of actively supporting an unjust government or the institution of state sanctioned slavery as the only ways in which we remove freedom from others, we are wrong. Our indifference can have the same effect. In a world with an estimated 21 million people working in conditions of forced labor, we must recognize that more people are enslaved today than at any other time in history - including at the height of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. We also know through research that poverty and hunger are major causes of modern day slavery - operating as factors that push people into conditions of forced labor or sex trafficking.
Therefore, every time we ignore or are indifferent to the hunger and poverty of others, we are encouraging modern day slavery. On this Fourth of July, the Holy Father's words implore is to do more than eat hot dogs and apple pie and appreciate our freedom. Rather, they call us to appreciate our role as consumers or bystanders who, through our indifference, contribute to slavery of others. In the words of Pope Francis, "All of us realize that the intention to provide everyone with his or her daily bread is not enough. Rather, there is a need to recognize that all have a right to it...." Therefore, perhaps we can celebrate this freedom by - as consumers and bystanders - working to eliminate the enslavement of others and truly appreciate freedom in a new way.