Are we free?

We received these thoughts from a recent high school graduate in Michigan. They reflect the awareness of growing economic inequality among many young people in America’s hard-hit communities today. We thought you’d be interested.

I am a 17-year-old dishwasher and student currently living in a working-class suburb of Detroit.

In my house there are four adults (only two of whom are employed), three young children, three bedrooms, one bathroom, and two vehicles. Surely things could be worse, but it’s pretty crowded.

On the surface, we live in one of the freest societies humans have ever created. When asked if we are free, people will more often than not answer with a resounding “yes.” When I was in elementary school, it was sort of embedded in my head to think of the American flag and freedom as synonyms. But that is a falsehood, because it is only the surface. Just as on the surface, racism is virtually non-existent, which is also a falsehood.

Many will make the claim that we live in a democratic, free-market society and are therefore free politically, economically, and socially. In fact, many make the argument that you can’t have a truly democratic system without capitalism, and that they are somehow compatible. They say that the only thing that truly stands in the way of us and tyranny is the free market, because it gives every citizen the opportunity (not the right, of course) to “be whatever he wants to be; to choose his own destiny.” This is true for those born into a privileged position and/or are extremely ambitious individuals, but not everyone’s stars are aligned in his or her favor.

The only extra choice that capitalism gives me that I wouldn’t have elsewhere is the choice between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, or McDonalds and Burger King. Both of these are completely superficial and mere distractions that don’t trump the other choices working people must make, such as the choice to either make the mortgage payment or send their children to college; to go to the doctor or fill-up the gas tank. The choice that our current system offers us depends on the freedom to choose, and the poor that are living with debt are not in any position to take advantage of any so-called choice.

This is not freedom; this is slavery. Many people who defend this system say it is a fact of life, and that’s all there is to it. Or the classic “I was able to make a life for myself, so why can’t you?” Within my own family, I hear it in every political discussion.

Thankfully I don’t hear it in my house, but from outside members of the family that had resources that my mother didn’t. One relative who lived with her mother during her 20s and received government assistance to feed her children now says that anyone struggling should work three jobs. Another was in the Navy during the late 70s and 80s and was given housing and a free education; he says the same thing. Now, he is a manager at a production plant and makes roughly $200,000 a year, and his biggest obstacle currently is the pesky union that demands fair pay and benefits.

But what other freedoms does our current system deny us?

Every day when we go to work, we enter a dictatorship. But what other choice do we have? We work for a group of men that pay us as little as possible, and take everything that is left for themselves. They call the shots, they are the ones that profit, and they are not the ones who really create the wealth. Where is the “freedom,” exactly? I didn’t vote for the tyrants at my workplace. If I so much as complained, my job would potentially be forfeit.

We do, however, have the right to vote for our leaders. But the only ones that are even an option are two parties that support the capitalist system, and both candidates for major offices are bought by the ruling class, because without their help, they would lose the election. The capitalist class is looked out for first, and then anything left over goes to the masses, just to keep us content.

The main difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is that one is willing to let the masses eat more crumbs off the table. The Republican Party doesn’t even so much as make a secret out of handing over the fruits of our labor to the most well off among us. They seem to be under the impression that Americans as a whole don’t want shared sacrifice, but rather “shared prosperity.” The Democrats at least try to do things that benefit the working class, while still looking out for their buddies in big business. Sarah Palin and Barack Obama shouldn’t be looked at in the same light, but it is no secret that in order for any of them to win major office, both must sell away a little bit of their soul to the corporations. I believe that President Obama’s heart truly is in the right place, but he has to make concessions to the shadow government if he wants to hold his position as the president, because if he doesn’t play ball, they will find someone else who gladly will.

The richest 400 people out of 310,000,000 have more wealth than the bottom 155,000,000 combined, and it is only getting worse.

Surely things could be worse, but we live in the richest country in the world, and there is absolutely no excuse for things to be this way. There are more than enough resources to go around, and we have the technology currently on hand to make sure everyone gets what I believe to be basic human rights and then some. We no longer live in the 13th century. Humanity has advanced enough to make it possible that every belly is full – as well as have a surplus left over, and we could probably do it without destroying the earth that supports us.

Now tell me again, are we free?

Photo: Kenneth Gaerlin // CC 2.0