A Call to Women: Are You Free if
All of Us Are Not Free?

A Call to Women: Are You Free if All of Us Are Not Free?

Photo by Ryan McGinley

As we approach the Independence Day holiday, I can’t help but feel the intense hypocrisy of this moment. Writer and civil rights activist Audra Lorde’s poignant words run through my head: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

The Fourth of July is an annual celebration of nationhood. It commemorates the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It symbolized the end of our attachment to the the monarchy and our separation from Great Britain and the rebirth of liberty in our country.

On the surface, the holiday evokes the trappings of summer – gatherings with friends, running through sprinklers, eating popsicles and BBQ and watching fireworks.

But at its core and as an often-overlooked reality, Independence Day did not bring liberty and justice for all.

While the signing of the Declaration of Independence was symbolic of our cutting ties with the monarchy and freed the colonies from British rule, it did not facilitate freedom for everyone in the United States.

In his famous speech The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro, Social reformer and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass said, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

Our history books taught that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, there were many who ignored the law and continued the institution of slavery. It wasn’t until June 19th, 1865 – what we now refer to as Juneteenth– that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the war had been won and slavery must come to an end.

There are many who rightfully will not be celebrating freedom today.

image of women's rights protester with sign that says I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own - Audra Lorde

Fast forward to today and in one term, an extremist Supreme Court swiftly overturns Roe v. Wade and dismantles a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, challenges the right to privacy, guts Miranda rights, ends regulations on open carry of guns, and ends federal regulation of greenhouse gases while our planet continues to burn.

I don’t know if such a small group of people have ever done more damage to human welfare, public safety, to the planet and our democracy in just a matter of weeks.

And if you think you are immune to their control and their cruelty, you are sorely mistaken. Regardless of whether you take this moment with a sense of urgency, they are coming for you. From same-sex marriage to contraception to voter suppression – the conservative and radical court – steeped in patriarchal and misogynistic values and that does not represent the views of most Americans – has every intention of continuing to roll back rights.

I know my black and brown sisters are looking on with a sense of deep knowing and disgust in their eyes, saying, “we have never been free.”

But now more than ever we must tell the truth. We must right the wrongs of history. And we must do it in the present moment.

The attacks on women’s rights are radicalizing us. Our deteriorating climate, overt and violent displays of racism, lack of gun regulation and the conservative right’s unwillingness to protect our children is making us angry.

Let us channel that anger into action. Yes, it’s important to speak up, to protest, to donate and to vote, but we’ll never see real change in our political system until we organize and focus on big structural reform issues. We must turn our shock into purposeful action, focusing on the midterms and voting reform.

We must courageously turn this into the most urgent, existential fight of our lives. Because it is.

We have never truly been the land of the free and only time will tell if we are the home of the brave.

I am not free until all of us are free.

Liberty Enlightening the World by Arya Badiyan

Liberty Enlightening the World by Arya Badiyan, 2020.
“The figure in the foreground restores the original intention behind the Statue of Liberty symbolizing the emancipation of the slaves,” Arya says. “The background is symbolic. The pillars are evocative of the lynching memorial in Alabama. The crowd represents the millions of black lives that have been tragically taken over hundreds of years as this country has failed to be a haven of liberty. It is also a reminder that they are still with us, a veritable army ready to help establish liberty and justice for all.”


Juneteenth by Arya Badiyan

Juneteenth by Arya Badiyan, 2020.
“In this work, the meaning of the Statue of Liberty is restored to its original intention as a celebration of abolition,” Arya says. “This re-conceived Lady Liberty holds aloft broken chains in one hand and a plaque in the other, marking the date, June 19, 1865, when the last of the slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas. The monument was conceived in June 1865 as a commemorative gift from France to the United States to celebrate the end of slavery,” Arya explains. “In the original design, Lady Liberty held broken shackles. But as the statue came to life, this history was obscured. The association with immigration was a narrative written after its unveiling. Ellis Island received its first immigrants six years after the Statue of Liberty was unveiled, and the famous poem at the statue’s base wasn’t written until 1886.”

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