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How Can We Celebrate “Freedom” While Kids Are in Concentration Camps?

Pro tip, flag-waver: Your July Fourth “freedom” narrative is a bald-faced lie.

Pro tip, flag-waver: Your July Fourth “freedom” narrative is a bald-faced lie.

I really don’t know what the hell we think we’re celebrating today. With children locked up in cages and concentration camps for the crime of being born on the wrong side of the legal fiction commonly known as a border, I don’t know who or what we think we are. But whatever it is, it has no business enjoying a holiday for “freedom.”

Pro tip, flag-waver: Your Fourth of July “freedom” narrative is a bald-faced lie. “All men are created equal” was written to represent white men, especially rich white men who owned slaves to work their land. Thomas Jefferson was one, James Madison and James Monroe were two more, as was George Washington. They wrote that line for themselves alone.

If you are a white, wealthy man bent on rolling around in the flowerbed of your born-on-third-base freedom today, remember that “All men are created equal” was not meant for your mother, your sister, your wife or your daughter. It was not meant for your Black friends, co-workers or neighbors. It wasn’t meant for the poor people you sidestep on the sidewalk. It wasn’t meant for the children kettled in hideous conditions on the border by dint of deliberate Trump administration policy.

Yet those words do stand at the core of our national creation, and generations of activists have worked and even died to ensure we as a people live up to that elemental moral code. If you want to celebrate something, how about celebrating the long fight to establish equal rights for everyone, including those kids currently caged within the “freedom” of our borders. What you take for granted came at a blood cost, and not just on battlefields in Pennsylvania and Europe.

Stonewall was a battlefield. The Edmund Pettus Bridge was a battlefield. The Triangle Shirtwaist factory was a battlefield. The Ludlow coal mine was a battlefield. Ferguson was a battlefield. These places and the events which seared them into our common history were and remain screams for freedom — a freedom that was hard won and must be fiercely defended.

The southern border of the United States of America is a battlefield, and children are being used as cannon fodder. By definition, a concentration camp is a facility where people deemed undesirable or suspicious by the government are forced to live in brutal conditions and denied their freedom. The criminalization of migration provides the legal fig leaf required to strip these people of their standing as fellow human beings — but human rights are for everyone, not just those Stephen Miller deems racially acceptable.

As with all the others, this battle has a body count. Also like the others, it is a battle that must be won, because it will define us as a nation if we don’t.

“Owning the libs” is more important to some than providing water to children who may never see their parents again. Prominent national politicians will spend the next 17 months running on their record of doing exactly that, and a bunch of them will almost certainly win. Tell me again what it is we’re celebrating today?

On this day 243 years ago, a decision was made on paper to remove the United States as a nation from the rule of kings. This was done for greedy reasons, as the purpose of the colonies was to peel stolen land for profit, and the Founders wanted that profit for themselves. Yet this decision, made so long ago and at the lethal expense of so many, has slowly blossomed into the potential for genuine freedom to be had by all, if we can simply live up to the hype behind what essentially began as a continental smash-and-grab robbery.

Placing children in concentration camps and prisons both at the border and throughout the country, tolerating this even for a moment, spits in the face of everything we as a country allegedly hold dear. Yet this country has been tolerating the captivity of children, in one form or another, since its founding. From slavery to prisons, from juvenile detention to boarding schools for Native children, from Japanese concentration camps to migrant concentration camps, caging children is part of the history of the United States.

Celebrating “freedom” on this Fourth of July within the overarching context of these children’s deliberately inflicted suffering is rank hypocrisy. We are not great, we may not even be good, but we must strive to be better than this.