Holidays and Freedoms

The recent hate crimes in Belmont, Winthrop, and Brighton, so close to home and so near the fourth of July, have me thinking about the meaning of our national holidays.

Seven of our eleven federal holidays celebrate our struggles for freedom and justice.  Each of our national struggles have occurred in the context of broader international liberation struggles. 

Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday celebrate our declaration of independence from King George and honor those who fought our revolutionary war to uphold that declaration.  Our revolution was just the first of many revolutions to replace the autocratic rule of European monarchs with government by the people.

Our new holiday, Juneteenth, celebrates the final end of slavery in the United States.  Over 600,000 died in our civil war.  By comparison, only 25,000 died in our revolutionary war.   Almost as many soldiers died in the civil war as in all our other wars combined.   Roughly 10 percent of the men between 18 and 45 died in the civil war and many more were maimed for life. The union soldiers sacrificed to free four million people from slavery.

It took a horrific convulsion to expunge the stain of slavery that ran so deep in our nation and to enshrine liberty for all in our constitution.   It is fitting that we finally have a holiday that specifically celebrates that milestone in our progress.   

Martin Luther King Day celebrates a great leader and those who struggled alongside him to make freedom real for African Americans by dismantling the state and local laws discriminating against them.  

The struggle for universal civil rights and freedoms continues to this day, but it is broader and more complex.  It is not just about changing laws.  It is about changing the behavior of individuals and institutions who may discriminate against not only African Americans but other minorities and/or women.   All nations that are committed in good faith to basic human rights continue to struggle to realize those rights universally for their citizens.

The recent hateful incidents diminish the freedom of all minorities.  Whether one is visibly Black, visibly Asian, visibly an orthodox Jew or visibly transgender, one should be able to walk the streets free from the fear of random violence.

All of us, whether healthy or unhealthy, act based on the ideas we are exposed to.  That is why it is so important that all of us speak out against violence and broadcast our appreciation for diversity.

We celebrate and thank the law enforcement officers who respond when hateful violence unfolds.  They, like our soldiers, put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms.  Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom.  On those days, we also honor our public safety personnel.

Labor Day honors public safety personnel, teachers, and other unionized workers, but more broadly honors all those who fought for better wages and working conditions in the international labor movement.  It is easy to forget across the distance of years just how low wages often were and how cruel the workplace could be.  The labor movement fought and won great victories to create the relative comfort that many of us now enjoy.  As in the civil rights movement, there is more to be done.

Columbus Day has become controversial for good reason.  Columbus’ revealed the Americas to Europeans, but he did is so in the service of a monarch bent on acquiring resources for royal aggrandizement.  Those who came after him destroyed the great pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas.  I support rethinking that holiday to align it better with the consistent values expressed by our other holidays.

The remaining three federal holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day — bring families together to enjoy the freedoms we have been blessed with.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

42 replies on “Holidays and Freedoms”

  1. Important reflections on an important day.
    I suggest every American would gain from watching the HBO John Adams segment, based on book by David McCullough, documenting the struggle to achieve unity among the 13 disparate colonies and get 12 “yes” votes, with New York abstaining, in order to declare our independence. These United States were not a given then, nor, clearly, are they now.

    1. This is a very astute and thoughtful rememberence. What happened the was truly revolutionary and the Founders understood human nature. I hope we remember how difficult it is to keep our democratic experiment.

  2. Very thoughtfully stated.
    Sadly, we have a longstanding cottage industry of people who make money off of their personal endeavors of race baiting an uneducated populace on a daily basis.
    Dr. King is probably mortified looking down at these people.

  3. I was with you till you felt the need to try to connect hate crimes to mental illness. Please don’t further spread this hurtful rhetoric which painfully diminishes both victims of hate crimes and those who suffer from mental illness.

    1. Really!

      I have the uttermost respect and admiration for Senator Brownsberger. And that will never change.

      But thank you, Heather, for having the courage and foresight to point out this constant, relentless, and harmful connection between hate ideology-driven violence and the go-to “mental illness” boogie train. This does not just diminish those who suffer from psychiatric conditions, it demonizes and stigmatizes them, making them out to be the forever lurking threat and a danger to society. When in effect, society writ large poses more of a threat to the mentally ill population. This is scapegoating at its worst. This practice amounts to conscious or unconscious vilification, and systematic societal victimization of people whose voices have been deliberately taken away through shaming, discrediting, and defaming.

      This is particularly sordid, when in fact, 99 percent of the people who commit crimes are simply psycho-sociopaths with no core and no regard for human life. Although many of them turn around and plead insanity, they do that only after they took the time to plan their crimes coldly, with mental precision, and full calculation and premeditation. And now, we have a whole of society comprised of the “mental illness” propaganda machine lined up to justify criminal behaviors. The US has gone from being number one in the world for criminalizing most behaviors and packing jails and prisons, to pathologizing everybody and trying to pack mental institutions and making more billionaires of greedy psychotropic drug companies and their crony politicians, shareholders and executives, and unethical psychiatrists.

      As a society, we cannot continue to solicit people to come forward and confess to “mental illness” real, suggested, or imagined, through mass advertisement and PR campaigns, and then tell murderers and bad actors, “Sorry! We understand you are [mentally-ill].” This amounts to psychological warfare upon this country’s population.

      The United States does not have a monopoly on mental illness. Neither do we have a monopoly on crime. As a society, we simply mismanage these very human conditions and phenomena. Please stop equating mental illness to criminality, and start righting this sinking ship before we all go down with it.

      1. Heather and Marie,

        Thank you to both of you for engaging on this point.

        Marie, I agree with you that “psycho-sociopaths with no core and no regard for human life” account for a lot of the more serious crimes. I would classify anti-social personality disorder a kind of mental disorder, but I agree that many forms of mental disorder bear no relationship to violence.

        We probably also agree that the root cause of hate crimes is hateful ideology.

        I’ve removed the sentence from the post which seemed to create confusion. That sentence read: “Many people who commit hate crimes may suffer from some form of mental illness, but it is hateful ideology that leads them to translate their inner struggles into hateful actions.” The point of the sentence was that hateful ideology is the problem as opposed to mental illness. It certainly didn’t assert that mental illness is the primary cause of hate crimes. I agree that it gave credence to the common perception that there is often a link, but only to emphasize that ideology is the problem even if there is a link in some cases. The sentence distracts from the main thrust of the post and I regret that it has caused pain for some readers.

    2. I respectfully disagree. Will is correctly stating (in my view) that people who commit hate crimes are often mentally ill. Because no rational person would want to commit a hate crime.

      1. You’re conflating rational behavior with mental illness. The latter is a disease with a biological basis that can be recognized and treated. The former is someone acting according to their ideals and mores—in other words, what they do seems perfectly rational to them.

        As pointed out here by others, equating felonious behavior with mental illness is a fallacy that continues to oppress people suffering from a biological disease. People with a mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of crimes than the perpetrator. And unfortunately due to the lack of mental illness services, the mentally ill are most often dealt with through law enforcement and the penal system than through adequate medical and social services. That system simply exacerbates the misperception of mental illness being associated with criminality.

        It’s time we recognize this and change our perspectives and approach.

      2. Hi Suepot,

        How about: No rational person would want to commit a crime. But that does not mean people who commit crimes are generally mentally ill, no matter the nature of the crime.

        This association between mental illness and crime derives from a fundamental misunderstanding of mental illness. Those who fall victim to what is being dubbed today as mental illness, suffer from no diseases that are any different from any other medical conditions. The problem we have is that those conditions remain misunderstood and their etiology remains largely unknown. In the Middle Ages, and prior to the advent of modern medicine, people who came down with infectious diseases use to be believed to be possessed by evil spirit and taken to the forest to either survive, which was supposed to prove that the evil spirit had left their bodies, or die.

        If we were to grow psychiatric researchers who devote themselves to finding the root causes of those conditions, and invest the money for independent scientific research in this, 50 to 100 years from now, society may look upon those conditions in the same manner that we look at heart disease and cancer today.

        In a September 28, 2021 article, The New York Times published an eye-opening article in which it was discovered that a man who was suffering from schizophrenia with paranoia, auditory hallucination, and delusional features, was cured of these afflictions, after he received a bone-marrow transplant to treat a cancer in his body.

        We do not know what we do not know. And psychiatric conditions being so unknown due a lack of credible study, people remain fearful of people with those conditions, and this tendency to tie mental illness to criminality must stop. People who suffer from anxiety and depression tend to use substances as a form of medication to try to feel better. They are not criminals, and would harm no one. This is public and health policy malpractice.

        The American Association of Psychiatry is a power hungry and a professional money-making organization. Their Diagnoses and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a book of fraud, and the least reliable diagnostic manual in all of the world’s history in all fields, given that this book is put together from groups of mostly men sitting around conference tables in what can only be called a book publishing convention to discuss what behaviors have been newly observed in society and what labels to give them before they are included in that book. No one in their right mind can honestly believe that “defiance” disorder in a teenager is really a psychiatric disorder. Nor can anyone argue with a straight face that dementia and Parkinson disease, which are both disorders of the central nervous system and degenerative diseases in nature, are psychiatric disorders. This is hurting people and causing undue suffering.

  4. I would also argue that as Thanksgiving is rooted in the myth of peaceful relations between the original settlers and indigenous peoples (particularly egregious right here) ; and Christmas is specific to practitioners of one religion even though it has become a secular holiday to many, that both be re-imagined to better suit what we know and understand about ourselves and each other. Perhaps Harvest Day and Midwinter instead.

    1. It’s called THANKSGIVING, which is meaningful in that it is s day to reflect on all we have and how easy are lives are compared to any other time and place in history up until now. There’s no need to even think about the relationship between the pilgrims and indigenous people of centuries ago.

      If Christmas has become secularized, and we now understand it as a day to celebrate hope for people of all creeds, and what we understand about ourselves today is that hope is in short supply (just look around), what value does changing its name have other than appeasing people who are overly sensitive? And if we were to have a holiday that simply celebrates mid-winter as the name suggests, (which isn’t 12/25 only the fourth or fifth day of winter?), why not have a federal holiday for mid-summer or mid-fall or mid-spring?

    2. Sarah, please read the history of the Pilgrims at Plymouth………from the beginning.

  5. Well written, Will. The only thing I’d add (and it’s a big one) is support of indigenous peoples who have suffered egregious loss of liberties and life for “American” freedoms. :/

    1. Is this more “White guilt?” Back in the day, all societies were more or less “primitive,” and combat was fierce and savage, with no holds barred, by both antagonists. To the victor belonged the spoils. I would respectfully suggest that folks stop feeling guilty or apologetic for something for which they were not responsible. Would you feel better if Japan or Germany won WWII? I have fought on several battlefields, and if we lost you would not be a happy camper.

  6. In today’s Boston Sunday Globe, in addition to the Declaration of Independence, it was inspiring to read excerpts from speeches inspired by the that document, among them Frederick Douglass’s “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” and the Declaration of Sentiments signed by attendees at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848. “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward women, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her,” it begins. Reading the Declaration of Sentiments, one is reminded that it took nearly a century-long campaign for women to win the right to vote, and women are still not a protected class under the United States Constitution. The struggle to ensure that equality of rights “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex” continues.

  7. Will, Thank you for your thoughts and the debate at a time when our aspirations about freedom and rights continue to be challenged, and continuing glaring gaps, and even worse steps backwards in their fulfilment have been painfully exposed. It is understandable that the word “freedom,” intimately bound up with unalienable rights is cherished as inherent to what the United States stands for, and some claim makes this country “exceptional.” Defense of freedom is invariably invoked to justify opposition to laws, rules, behavior and decisions that are felt to be objectionable, or in the worst cases hostile to its exercise. However, and more so I think in the US than elsewhere, the meaning and purpose of freedom has become unmoored from an essential characteristic – namely mutuality. Freedom cannot be universal unless it includes respect for the freedom of others and recognition that without this respect one’s own freedom is at risk.

    Freedom for oneself is meaningless and hypocritical unless it also acknowledges and accepts freedom for others. The exercise of one’s freedom must consider whether that exercise infringes upon the freedom of others or harms them. The typical phrase used to express this point is, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where another’s nose begins.” There are multiple other not so glaringly obvious examples of a person or group’s exercise of a “freedom” that can have extremely harmful consequences for others, and yet are regarded as legitimate by many Americans, e.g., ignoring mandates to protect public health, i.e., the health of others and insisting on carrying very lethal weapons to places and events where they are likely to increase the risk of violence, all in the name of “freedom.” There is no unalienable right to health care included in the language of the Declaration of Independence. But given what we know now about diseases and our medical capabilities, noting the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which include the right to security in the event of sickness among other circumstances) the unalienable rights to “Life and Pursuit of Happiness” in this Declaration only have meaning today if they include access to health care and protection from disease. At least so commonsense would tell us although I am sure some “originalist” lawyers would argue the contrary, because the word “health” is not specifically mentioned in this Declaration.

    I notice by the way, in addition to the varied examples of statements published in today’s Boston Globe which are relevant to the contents of the Declaration of Independence that there is also a full page ad under the heading “One Nation under God”, the phrase only added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. This ad includes various quotes supporting the idea that this country was founded as a Christian Nation. They imply that only Christianity embodies the values that support civil society and constitute the foundations of morality. Of course, anyone is entitled to propagate these views, however strong the evidence that they are historically incorrect, and despite its contents which arrogantly denigrate non-Christians, of all faiths and none, by claiming this superiority. Experience in other countries where one religion claims superiority over others, which is reflected in their political, legal, military and other institutions with power over people’s lives is not encouraging with respect to limits on the freedoms allowed to non-adherents to the official or favored religion. I hope that this persistent strain in American society will not prevail in the face of much more ecumenical schools of thought that recognize the value and indeed necessity of respecting and living with diverse traditions and people who uphold them. One of the admirable and innovative features and results of the American Independence movement in the 18th century was the goal of freedom not only from a monarch who claimed to be divinely ordained but also rejection of the idea that the country had to be identified with one religion. Freedom from religion, and especially from one specific religion is equally important as, and inseparable from freedom of religion.

    1. Great points, Martyn.
      I’m always cautious about asserting the freedom argument in public policy debates for the very reason that you cite — “Your right to swing your arms ends just where another’s nose begins.”

    2. A few comments on some of your points:
      – The US is indeed quite exceptional in the most basic sense of the word – not like others – in that the US is the only country that was founded on the idea that rights are inherent because they come from God rather than from the government. We should all be grateful for this because it means that what the government does not give, it cannot take away.
      – Freedom, as the Founders understood it, should also be intimately bound to but has become unmoored from personal responsibility and faith in or accountability to a power that is higher than our own humanity. Today, we no longer have to suffer the consequences of our own decisions because the government, which has taken the place of God (we all worship something), is there to clean up the mess for us. We have also become an a-moral people, so of course freedom will be abused if there is no objective morality to help guide us in our behavior and treatment of others.
      – How it can be considered respectful to the freedom of others to take the money they earn by government decree through taxation and use it to pay for government programs they don’t use or want? You mention universal health care. Why is it the government’s responsibility to pay for individuals’ health care? Perhaps if people were more personally responsible – didn’t have sex with as many people as they wanted and whenever they wanted, avoided alcohol and recreational drugs, didn’t over eat, didn’t eat garbage, didn’t sit around on their phones rather than exercising – they would be better able to afford their own health care because the need for it would be minimal. Maybe if people realized they are taking money out of the pockets of their neighbors when they call for such programs, they would exercise their freedom to live/behave as they want a little more responsibly. Our system is deeply flawed, and I am not against some sort of subsidy, especially for those who are born with or acquire disease through no fault of their own, but for the average American, our health is first and foremost our own responsibility.
      – In the name of public health, we were told to stay home. One of the results of this what that many people lost the means to provide for their families while many others were refused medical care that was deemed nonessential and now some of them are dying or their conditions have worsened – what about their rights? Why does your supposed right to protection from disease, which is part of the nature of being human, override my right to work or obtain the medical care I need? And to what degree should we be free from disease and how much are we willing to sacrifice to achieve whatever goal you or some “authority” deems reasonable?
      – While I agree that guns in the wrong hands can definitely make a situation more dangerous, in the hands of trained individuals, they can actually make a situation safer. Hundreds of thousands of people each year protect themselves from being the victim of rape and other violent crimes thanks to their right to carry a firearm.
      – Lastly, no individual should be compelled to practice any religion, including Christianity, and no one in this country is asking you or anyone else to do that when they point out that the US was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. I do wonder what other set of principles when rightly practiced, which I know is not always the case, and there are like you say, many historical examples of Christians behaving wrongly, leads to a more advanced, decent, and pluralistic society? Currently, we live in a post-Christian era and are quickly deteriorating while the religion of leftism is being shoved down everyone’s throats, so clearly pure secularism is not it, and neither is any other major world religion by your account, or socialism, or communist given the millions of people who were murdered in the last century under such regimes – what is it then?

    3. Just to amplify the seemingly-too-common misperception of some basis for a Christian-founding of USA.
      Please always remember that the founders of the USA were children of the Enlightenment, of Humanism. They were not children of unabashed Christian leadership — quite the contrary, the exclusion of any form of religion (protection from religion!) inside the Declaration of Independence.
      As we collectively grapple with de-teaming our USA (undoing the divisiveness that pervades), we do need to constantly remind that prejudices of the ruling people have always been the problem — those who want to obtain and retain power/control, often couched in the name of greater common good, are but political bullies.
      We should therefore strive for a bully-free USA, where intimidation and control are disdained, where the greater good is actually good for individuals of all varieties (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness), and where by looking forward we can acknowledge realistically the faults of the past but not be constrained by them as we progress (more perfect union).
      Lastly, Freedoms (rights) must be balanced by Responsibilities. As noted, constant screaming about “my rights” etc. does not serve the journey to achieve greater common good — unless my rights come with my responsibilities to society.
      Please remember, it is not socialist to be concerned for the welfare of my fellow citizens. Democracy is how we make decisions, but the decisions are bound in our social/societal agreements with each other.

      1. Excellent understanding of the Founding Fathers Jim! I’d like to add that Judeo-Christian is an oxymoron as Christianity is not an extension of Judaism.

  8. Thank you, Will, for not condemning the ongoing riots in Portland, Oregon and for having said little (maybe nothing) about the violence (riots, arson, looting) last year by Black Lives Matter and Antifa.

    Many people died (both police and civilians) in those riots as well as in the so-called Chaz/Chop “occupation.”

    Let’s ignore the billions of dollars these “events” cost and the Black businesses destroyed, shall we?

    As for the defunding of police and the sky high homicide rates in some of the Democrat-run big cities: who cares, Will, right?

    Maybe these things will come to your district, Will. What will you do then?

    You’re quite a guy, Will. One heck of an American. You’re unique, and we should remember on this July 4 what you stand for.

    1. Well put. Ignoring the Leftist fascism is not good for the health of our society. Also, I believe Columbus day was enacted a holiday in response to a massacre of Italians that happened in early 1900s. I wish people would stop trying to re-write History with PC nonsense.

  9. Can we add the Freedom to swim in open water without being fined and criminalized? A small thing but each freedom counts.

  10. A country that views every holiday as an opportunity to be lectured by self-appointed scolds who somehow represent the only perfect and utterly innocent peoples on earth is frankly not going to be a functioning country much longer.

    Oh, and despite the endless counter factual bullshit written about Columbus, his holiday was instituted as a minor apology to a minority that used to be shot in the streets and hung from gibbets in the nation’s largest ever lynching, but is now instructed to check its privilege.

    Pendulums swing. The harder one way, the harder the other

    1. Well said. I agree…this is a Marxist ploy….get everyone at each other’s throats. Destroy and re-write History. Very sad how gullible people are….not seeing how they are be manipulated

    Excerpt on the constitution from a
    (Full speech found in link at bottom.)
    One of my heroes, FREDERICK DOUGLASS wouldn’t allow himself to be played by the same ilk plying the same nonsense of division today.
    “Fellow-citizens! There is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this fight, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas7 tells us that the constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.
    Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”
    [No American in our history has exposed our hypocrisy more powerfully than did Frederick Douglass (circa 1818–1895), a one-time slave who escaped  from his Democrat ‘owner’ while enslaved in Maryland and became a great orator, statesman, and abolitionist. Douglass made the case best in his famous Fourth of July oration (here excerpted), delivered on July 5, 1852 before the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York. Yet as remarkable as his indictment is his vigorous defense of the Constitution and of the American experiment.]
    [*4)The Fugitive Slave Law was passed by the [Democrat controlled] US Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850. It declared that all runaway slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters.]
    Just the facts.

  12. Independence from oppressive regimes is certainly worth celebrating. However, I also hope the day will come when we will celebrate interdependence among all peoples and with our planet.

  13. Isn’t it a blessing, that we live in a country where we can agree or disagree with representatives of “our” government, and not live in fear of it?
    God Bless America.

  14. Will, this is a great forum. We can all render an opinion and not worry about a knock our doors in the middle of the night. I hope that my responses will not be interpreted as any kind of personal attack; they are not meant that way.

  15. Thank you Senator Brownsberger, for your thoughts, and for this forum. Happy Independence Day! (Obs.)

    Barring any major upheavals, we are leaving American apartheid behind us and the truth is setting us free. I mean, hopefully. The American experiment is not over by a long shot. We are examining our foundational myths and ideals and reckoning with contradictions. Anyway, long story short, we must redouble education spending and then some.

  16. Thanks for this. I think of all these holidays as a time to reflect on their original meanings, and how we can apply the kindest meaning of each holiday towards world citizens. For example,
    Valentine’s Day, for many people means the celebration of romantic love between a man & a woman. Romantic love is definitely wonderful to celebrate, and I apply that love to celebrating all forms of love, between people, animals, nature, and learning.
    Does that help?

Comments are closed.