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The Monthly Milestone: On Freedom

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At some point each year, I revisit the vision of the anonymous man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. From the first moment I saw the footage of this scene in Mr. Rappaport’s African Asian Studies class in ninth grade, it struck me profoundly. The image of an everyday man driven by an unshakeable longing for freedom encompasses the push that founded our nation.

These types of people crop up at many points throughout our history. One contemporary instance was in the protests for civil rights in the 1960s in the United States. Just as in Tiananmen Square in 1989, many of our protestors came from universities and colleges—they were students.

Interestingly, there does not seem to be much of the collective uproar for freedom recently, yet I believe it is just as necessary now as ever before. There have been some changes in the past few months that dare to defy our basic constitutional rights. It shocks me that most people either agree with them or turn a blind eye.

This year’s National Defense Authorization Act passed with a brief wave of controversy before settling quite simply. It was as though no one noticed that the act made it incredibly easy for the government to accuse almost any debatably “suspicious” person of terrorism and hold that person indefinitely without a trial. It is true that the act is not “required” to extend to U.S. citizens, but that was only an afterthought, put in as a second stipulation. Isn’t anyone a little bit concerned that we were almost stripped of our basic right to habeas corpus? And isn’t anyone a bit worried that the act only reads that U.S. citizens are not “required” to be detained without trial? The fuzzy language is setting up a “gotcha” trick on someone.

Again, the American people stand silent as another resolution begins trampling their rights: at December’s United Nations General Assembly Obama stood in support of a new policy to essentially categorize arguably inflammatory anti-religious speech as hate-speech. The U.N. then resolved to take steps to act against such speech amongst their members. The topic had previously been skirted for fear that fundamentalist Islamists would take advantage of the policy and lash out against those who drew political cartoons about Mohammed, or something equally acceptable under our constitution. All that the resolution required was a few turned phrases before it racked in the support it needed. Tell me where the first amendment exempts religious criticism from our doctrine of free speech?

I cannot help but wonder why no one speaks up or out against these policies in masses. The only evidence I have seen of protest is the Occupy Movement, and those protestors honestly just wanted jobs and a fairer business world. Then there was the brief explosion about SOPA, where a few large Internet browsers made a statement and some people freaked out because they might not be able to visit their favorite sites or watch TV shows for free online all the time. Is it only selfishness that stirs us?

Internet companies and the frustrated unemployed constituency, though completely valid protestors, were not who I was looking for to lead a revolt for freedom. As I mentioned before, in the 1960s in America and in 1989 in Beijing it was the college students. Young people are always going to facilitate the big changes in society, because when young people come together their collective energy and efforts are incredibly powerful. All we need to do is look to Obama’s 2008 election constituency.

The problem now is that there is no solidarity among young college students. Even though we live in a socially networked world and should be more connected than ever, we don’t have a unified sense of purpose. We, as young people, have forgotten that we still need to fight for our freedoms. We all need to think of the lone man in Tiananmen Square and recall that drive to be free at all costs, the human drive to stand up and say something when anyone even dares to tug at the fine fabric of our constitutional liberties.

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The School Newspaper of Harriton High School
The Monthly Milestone: On Freedom