WHAT DOES FREEDOM LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
It is the day after our Primary Election Day, one of the most partisan days of the year. Most folks in the middle are often left wondering whether anyone in power is interested in the greater good. In my work for the people of my neighborhoods in the 177th, my focus has always been on the basics: better jobs, better schools, and safer communities. It is easy to say, but not so easy to accomplish because the same words can mean different things to everyone.
One of the words that has many different meanings is Freedom. Everyone agrees it is a fundamental principle of our life in the United States but we can’t come to a common definition. I have spoken before about the three dimensions of freedom: individual liberty, equality of liberty for the entire population, and a system of being accountable to each other when our rights collide. To me, the way I judge whether to support a particular expression of individual liberty is whether the people exercising it recognize its impact on others. I am concerned with a ‘me first’ approach that gives no consideration to the impact one right has on another.
I am also concerned with a definition of freedom that does not account for the greater good. To me, freedom of speech and expression means everyone speaking their mind, but not closing minds by banning books. To me, economic freedom means fair wages, safe workplaces, and ensuring workers right to organize; not the ‘right to work’ for sub-poverty wage rates in unsafe, deregulated workplaces, where workers are discouraged from protecting themselves and the public. To me, freedom of control over one’s body means getting all the support and information to make important decisions, for the health of the individual and their family; not the right to place other people at risk based on misinformation. To me, freedom from fear means living in communities where we can be confident our kids can ride their bike around the block and be home in time for dinner; not providing differing degrees of enforcement that leave some people feeling more like targets than like citizens.
This is not new territory for me – I chose public service to serve the greater good. Back in the early days of the pandemic I talked about how the greater good requires a balanced approach, and we cannot pit lives against livelihoods. That means that I have to listen and consider everyone’s opinion; but it also means I have to stand up for what I believe is right for the whole community, not just the ones who are complaining the loudest. Sometime the ones yelling the loudest are right, not because they have the volume turned up, but because they want what is good for everyone. Sometime, the person with the most important voice is reluctantly sitting in the corner and you can barely hear their whispers as they share their lived experiences. I will always listen to voices loud and soft, because I do not have all the answers. I know if I am going to find better answers, I need input from everyone who has something to say.
Many times, I have changed my own position because I stopped and listened before making a decision. I think it makes me a better person, not just a better legislator.
So that we can stay focused on a balanced approach, I ask for two things: 1) keep telling me what freedom looks like to you, what issues matter the most to you; and 2) listen to other people who are also telling their own stories and have their own perspective on freedom.
None of us has all the answers, but if we listen to each other, we will find more answers than we started with.