Occupy Wall Street, Sunday, October 2nd, 2011, New York City.
If you want to know what someone is thinking, ask them. And nothing quite cuts to the political chase more than asking someone what the word “freedom” means to them.
I decided to ask 15 random people at Occupy Wall Street in New York what the word “freedom” means to them. Here are their answers:
One: “Freedom is bound up with the idea of possibilities. The idea of limitless possibilities is the ideal of limitless freedom. The idea that anything is potentially possible, that’s what freedom means. And historically there have been very few people that have been allowed to have the kinds of possibilities that would allow them to be free. Society has progressed more and more people have been allowed to be free. But we still live in a state of unfreedom. Society does not live for its own sake, autonomously. It is still bound to something external to itself that structures it. The goal of history and transforming society must be to make these possibilities available to everyone.”
Two: “Revolution means freedom from necessity.”
Three: “Freedom is me living my life however I want to. I’m going to be crippled by student debt. My tuition keeps going up. The ability to do what I want with my life, without the confines of debt, without the confines of politics, without the confines of anything else. Because money really does control everything, and in our society that money is controlled by a very few. We are basically, I wouldn’t say we are controlled by them, but we are oppressed by them.” (This person is 19, and expects to graduate with $40,000 in student debt.)
Four: “Being able to have enough activities, friends and the social basis of self-respect so that you can make meaning out of your life.”
Five: “Freedom is the freedom to participate in the political process. America is meant to be governed by the people, and I feel that our political process has reached such an effective low point that I’m out here standing in the rain to try and participate. Meanwhile I feel that corporations don’t have to stand out here in the rain to participate in our political process, and that’s freedom.”
Six: “Freedom means freedom from necessity, freedom to do what you want without having to sell yourself in order to survive. Freedom to express who you are through whatever you want to do without any forces stopping you.”
Seven: “Freedom is your ability to carry out what you want to do, but at the same time I feel that we are living in a fully interactive environment where we are effected by everything around us, which is also helping dictate what we do – by whatever forces, the weather, other people, anything. True freedom is a great fight but I think it isn’t fully possible.”
Eight: “Realization of human potentiality.”
Nine: “Freedom means the unlimited transformability of all things humans into things beyond human. The unimaginable frontiers of human destiny that we have given up largely to our own discredit.”
Ten: “I think that freedom is your ability to carry out what you want to do. It’s not just about your social freedom, it is also about economic freedom. If you are always working for a boss, you don’t have freedom either. Freedom is always that you’re emancipated from your physical necessities and your mental baggage.”
Eleven: “Freedom means the ability to speak your mind, to live your life free of worrying about how you’ll pay your next bill or whether you’ll have a roof over your head.”
Twelve: “Freedom to me is when people have a voice. Corporations are not people. Freedom is when we can walk in our communities and feel safe, when people can go to public universities and not have to go into debt. So not only so they can get the careers they want, but so they can be productive people in society. To me freedom is that we don’t have to worry about the water, about the air, about what is going to happen to our grandchildren. I have five grandchildren, and I’m really concerned that they’re not going to experience freedom. Here in this country I have freedom to protest, to speak out, but fundamentally I don’t have freedom to change policy. And the policies of this country are becoming more and more, it isn’t just right-wing, but it is more and more about corporate power. Freedom is that collectively we have a voice and can make a change. And it’s a change we don’t know what it is going to look like, and it might not be a straight line, but freedom is for us to carve out.”
Thirteen: “Live your life as you see fit, making your own decisions to the best of your knowledge and ability.”
Fourteen: “Freedom means being able to do something like this [Occupy Wall Street], like being able to question the government, like being able to speak our minds, like being able to march across a bridge if we want to and not get arrested. Just because it’s a mass group of people doesn’t mean it’s harmful or dangerous. Freedom also means that we can be able to be heard by our government, because they are supposed to be here for us. Citizens are supposed to be the main foundation of a country and I feel like that our freedom is being shat on because we aren’t being heard. Now is a time for everyone to join and speak up, because if there are more voices there’s more of a chance to be heard and something changing.”
If you haven’t been, it is a good time. Random people were quite smart, energetic to discuss and share, and excited about the presence and possibilities of the occupations. Something about how it is open-ended and the timing – it now looks like it will be high unemployment indefinitely, while elites and the government are unwilling to act on anything other than austerity fantasies - gives it even more of a spark.
In comments, what’s your definition of freedom? Do you find any of these fifteen compelling?