Dear Betty Jr.,
I hope you’re enjoying Mexico. Your father and I are trying to make the most out of the Freedom work camp in Maryland, and we wish we were there with you. I think it is great that you have decided to write your essay on freedom, and I hope I can help you find this “misplaced notion of freedom” you are looking for. To me, freedom means the least amount of restrictions for the greatest number of people. It is always easy to be free when you are only talking about one person, but when you start adding more people into the picture it becomes complicated. If there is just one person on a desert Island she can do whatever she wants because there is no one to stop her, but is that true freedom? To me it sounds like being trapped. I think true freedom is when people work together to make sure everyone is able to live their lives in peace. I remember, when I was your age, my high school class studied the idea of freedom and what it meant in the USA. We learned about the many ways in which Americans had fought for freedom, such as the Women’s Rights Movement. Looking back at the way things have turned out since then, I realized that my generation never had to struggle for freedom and we thought it was always going to be there- I guess we took it for granted. Things are different now, and while we consciously sacrificed some of our freedoms for protection, some of them we let wither away because we never thought of them as freedoms at all.
One of the things we learned a lot about during the freedom course I took in high school was women’s struggle for equal rights. You might not know this, but your great-great grandmother was not allowed to vote in her early 20s. She couldn’t go to the same schools as boys like your great-great grandfather could. She wasn’t even seen as an equal to boys of her same age. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries women fought as hard as they could in order to gain these rights that they thought and knew they deserved. When they first started fighting for equality, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were ambitious and didn’t want to compromise. When they met at Seneca Falls in 1848 in a famous convention, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others demanded their rights, and they didn’t go half way. Some people thought they should ask for achievable, modest goals but they realized that freedom couldn’t be achieved by compromise. Gaining freedom wasn’t as simple as demanding rights. It was a long and hard battle that both Elizabeth and Lucretia didn’t live to see the end of. They spent their whole lives fighting for a dream that only their grandchildren and and their grandchildren’s grandchildren would live to see come true. The things that these women have achieved are certainly examples of true freedom.
In the centuries to follow, some of these freedoms would be taken for granted. While these women spent their whole lives fighting for the ability to vote, in the early 21st century many people didn’t exercise this right. In 2008, the US presidential election had the highest turnout since 1968. Even then, only 56.8% of eligible voters actually voted in the election. Voting isn’t the only freedom that Americans took for granted in the early 21st century. We didn’t always use of speech in a constructive way, and our freedom of the press was often just used to allow Us weekly magazine to post pictures of hungover celebrities. Our ancestors are the ones who struggled so hard to earn us the freedoms we had, whereas freedom was something that was simply given to my generation, not something that was fought for. Because we didn’t have to fight for them, we didn’t take advantage of how much freedom we really had. For example, back then we had “e-mail” that wasn’t read or regulated by the government. We had the ability to communicate in a free and open way with people all around the world. I never thought twice about how amazing this freedom really was. Now with z-mail, we don’t have this ability. (this isn’t a bad thing, I love our government censors!). We ended up sacrificing this freedom of communication, as well as many other freedoms, for the freedom of safety. Maybe if we had to struggle for it, we wouldn’t have given it up so easily.
Many of the freedoms that I got to experience as a kid, as you know, had to be sacrificed for our national safety. Remember Johnny Chu’s campaign slogan of 2040, “Freedom From Fear?” To achieve this freedom from fear, we have had to sacrifice many of the freedoms we once had. The war on terror, which started when I was a kid, meant that if we wanted safety, we would have to sacrifice our freedoms. It used to be that you could make a phone call, go on Facebook, or go to the library without supervision. Doesn’t that seem impossible to imagine? Mexico is a little better than the US with these freedoms because it doesn’t have the same terrorist problems, and that is why we sent you to school at the Fieldston School of Mexico City. Here in America, you can’t even walk outside without being accompanied by a government aide. As a result of this, the streets are now deserted, and its hard to remember that when I was growing up, the sidewalks of Manhattan were so crowded that you could barely walk without bumping into at least 5 people. Your generation will have to make the decision of which is more important: the freedom from terrorist attacks or the freedom to do what you want without interference. (Again, not that I don’t love our censors and what Johnny Chu has done for our country!)
One of the really important things about freedom is that you have to use it. Like a muscle you have to exercise it if you want it to stay around. Maybe too many people in my generation used their freedom to sit on the couch and watch TV, or play on their computers. Technology has given us so many freedoms; we don’t have to work all day in the fields to get food, and we don’t have to send letters across the country by pony. As well as giving us freedom to have leisure time, technology has trapped us all. Remember how bad things got during the Oil Embargo of 2039? In my youth we relied so heavily on oil, and we still do today. We still use oil to ship our food, power our cities, and the NPK fertilizer that your father and I use at the work camp is made using petroleum. These technologies, as well as our fancy computer gear, allow us to do so much but they come with tradeoffs. If we didn’t rely so heavily on technology, we would be freer from government surveillance, and maybe you could be here in the US with us, instead of studying in Mexico.
There are so many problems in the world today that I hope your generation can stand up to. Throughout the centuries, the struggle for freedom has been cyclical. All sorts of different generations have struggled to bring freedom to the world, and other generations have let it slip away. My generation and the generation before mine didn’t struggle for freedom enough, and now your generation, just like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and those before her, will have fight to regain the freedoms that we have “misplaced.” I have to go, but be careful in Mexico—we wouldn’t want you to end up in a work camp for political dissidents like your father and I!
Age 16, Grade 11
The Fieldston School High School