Declaring Our Independence From Oppression & Exploitation and Embracing the Freedom of Independent Thought & Humane Action

This post is by contributing blogger Lynne Westmoreland, long-time music instructor and a humane educator. Lynne is a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and is the instructor for our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life, which is designed for people who want to put their vision for a better world & a more joyful, examined life into practice.

We are approaching the day that we, as American citizens, celebrate our independence from British rule. The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most revered document in our nation’s history. Americans take great pride in their independence, autonomy, free will, and governance by democracy. Most Americans pride themselves on their ability to freely choose their life’s path and are vehement regarding the idea that we have always been a free and socially diverse population. We want freedom for ourselves, and we also engage in wars waged to win democracy, accountability, and freedom for all others the world over.

Yet our history shows a continuum of hypocrisy, blind spots, and exclusion of many from the full realization and practice of self-determination. It took another century after the signing of the Declaration to include African Americans in our dream; and we still have much work to do for true equality in education, opportunity, pay, respect, and inclusion. It was almost 150 years after the signing that women were finally regarded as full citizens who were allowed to vote. Almost 250 years later we are still grappling with whether gay, lesbian, and transgender people can be “allowed” to marry, a decision based on the dominant heterosexual culture’s will and whim. We require gay people to observe all of the tax and civic responsibilities of our culture, but still deny one of the most basic rights and privileges of our society: the right to marry the person whom you love and to commit fully to that person with the support and witness of that commitment by the larger community.

While we pride ourselves on being independent thinkers, our reality is often something much different than critical and creative thought and decision making. We often give over our opinions and desires to fit into the mainstream culture and value systems. Many of us spend every day meeting the requirements of job, family, status, and social networks that are not what we truly want to be doing with our lives. We are caught in between what we most deeply value and what is expected of us to “fit in.” We fall prey to the ubiquitous messaging that tells us how we should look, what we should wear, the kinds of jobs we should aspire to, the school that we should mold ourselves into the likeness of, what food is healthy and appealing, and so forth. We have often ceased being citizens that shape our world and have instead been fashioned into consumers that shape and grow the bottom line of corporations. All too often our lives look pretty much like everyone else’s, and we have forgotten what truly matters to us.

Independence Day represents freedom from oppression and exploitation, and this is something most of us believe in, at least theoretically. But when we don’t think about the conditions of the work places that our clothes come from, or what happens to other people unfortunate enough to be out of work or without health insurance, or the migrant workers poisoned by the chemicals and fertilizers used to produce our food, or what the real, live animals endured to become the hamburger on our grill or the eggs making up our breakfast, we are supporting oppression and suffering without meaning to.

This Independence Day can be a new beginning, though. We can declare our individual independence from advertising, cultural “norms,” and unhealthy and inhumane actions. We can choose instead to be independent thinkers and visionary pioneers, and to practice collaboration, community, and true freedom for all to be happy, healthy, and respected. Now that would be an Independence Day truly to celebrate.

Image courtesy of Benjamin Earwicker via Creative Commons.

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