Exploring the concept of freedom through literature
Freedom: What is it? Who “gets” it? And how can we dismantle and reconstruct it?
In the United States, July is so often depicted through a red, white, and blue lens. Splattered across digital ads, storefronts, and even in bookstores, Independence Day is the month’s focus for many. On these shelves, we predominantly see portraits of white men, presidents, politicians, and historians that are often paid exorbitant sums to discuss the country, various wars, deals, and/or policies—men that in no way represent the entirety of our nation.
These men are for whom freedom was created, and subsequently freedom has become structurally inaccessible, restricted through a racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and overall discriminatory society. The continuous enforcement of these definitions prevents freedom from truly being equitable and attainable for all. Though the United States represents something different for everyone (@JenayRoss describes this well in her July 4th post), we know that the country’s emphasized concept of perfect, unified “freedom” is not an accurate depiction.
Thankfully, there is a wealth of resources to be found within literature that can start the process of breaking down these restrictions and expanding the concept of and ways to achieve equity. In reading these titles, individuals that might not experience limitations on their freedom at all or in the same way as others can shift their gaze and perspective. This month’s newsletter is focusing on what freedom truly means and the books that can help us gain that understanding and fight for freedom for all.
“On August 1, 1953, the United States Congress announced House Concurrent Resolution 108, a bill to abrogate nation-to-nation treaties, which had been made with American Indian Natives for ‘as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow.’ The Announcement called for the eventual termination of all tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.”
A central plotline of The Night Watchman becomes apparent immediately through Louise Erdrich’s prologue: the fight for basic human rights and freedom. Based on her grandfather’s life, Erdrich’s novel is an acute and moving depiction of the marginalization and oppression that the U.S. has caused and overlooked time and time again in Indigenous peoples’ history—including at the novel’s time of publication, during the spread of COVID-19.
Have you read The Night Watchman? Did it shape your understanding of restrictions on freedom within the United States? And what does it mean for freedom when a country can so easily take it away?
Freedom is not one-size-fits-all—whether through a lens of disability justice, LGBTQIA+ justice, racial justice, etc. it’s critical that our reading looks at different definitions, needs, and action steps...especially by utilizing an intersectional lens.
July is Disability Pride Month, a month companies and politics often wash in ableism (despite it—ignorantly—not being recognized at the federal level). And this ableism extends into the discussion of “freedom” for disabled individuals. Disability Visibility is a title that takes a wide look across the concept of freedom, particularly how disability is not a monolith and, therefore, how equity is not a monolith. Freedom means centering disabled folks and their needs, their rights, as opposed to assuming what they need is the same as what ableist folks want or have. And a critical way the book community can continue working towards equity is by demonstrating demand for representation in the industry and in the stories we read.
In Cuba, protests have broken out in support of the Cuban people’s freedom from a decades-long dictatorship that has resulted in widespread inaction around COVID-19, inflation, censorship, and historical repression. The U.S. was quick to enact sanctions against Cuba, despite the Cuban people’s protests and calls for solutions on their terms. By not listening to the needs of the people experiencing such oppression, the U.S. is further restricting Cuba’s fight for freedom, deciding what Cubans need for them and not with them. This bank of resources is a starting point to learn more about historical oppression/Western intervention and action steps to take now to help create change.
What about reproductive rights? Constantly being challenged and to be considered by the Supreme Court in the coming months is Roe v. Wade. There are countless reasons why reproductive rights and freedom are critical, especially with relation to gender and racial equity. From access to healthcare, to physical safety, to independence and stability, reproductive rights touch upon every aspect of an individual’s life. An organization that works to protect reproductive rights is SisterSong—they aim to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.
And then there are voting rights. It’s incredibly, horrifically ironic that in a year in which voting rights are being severely restricted and with an attempt to overturn election results, people across the country promote freedom and independence. The United States’s imagery of freedom largely relies upon the democratic ideals of the country—but what does it mean if most people don’t get to exercise those democratic ideals, as they are barred from voting? Or, they aren’t barred yet, but someone is attempting to bar them, indirectly claiming that their vote shouldn’t count because of where they are from, what they look like, and how they might fill out the ballot. How can there be freedom if not everyone receives this fundamental right? If individuals don’t get to voice a problem or solution for themselves? Take a look at the documentary Knock Down the House to learn more about a few changemakers fighting for the establishment of equity through freedom.
And, as newsletter subscribers, you get access to an exclusive additional background...this time featuring everyone’s favorite TBR waiting room. Just visit this page and use the password HowIsItAugust to download.
In case you missed it...Instagram announced in July that they are no longer a photography app, rather a video one. This is how we are feeling about the prioritization of reels:
We aren’t sure where exactly the summer has gone—it’s already August, and there are only five months left in 2021. But, we can for certain say that before election season begins in the States, we all need to play our part in changing this warped concept of freedom. So, what else can we do?
Help out the ACLU: They are constantly fighting to protect freedom within the United States. Whether text/phone banking or helping with petitions, volunteering for the ACLU is a great way to not only stay informed, but help make some change.
Text or Phone Bank: Around elections, these are great ways to help promote candidates that want to protect and expand freedom for all individuals.
Also check out @mnmbooks—Maya recently hosted a phone bank event to support a candidate in Virginia.
Join in on or start protests across the States: Whether in support of Cuba’s freedom, voting rights, or even (especially!) a local issue that you are passionate about, showing up is a great way to demonstrate the strength in numbers.
Donate to organizations that are providing direct aid to those who are structurally disadvantaged: Whether The Okra Project, Fair Fight, Black Women Lead, or SisterSong, there are countless organizations out there working to expand the rights and freedom of those impacted by our oppressive society.
We are so appreciative of you taking the time to read our July newsletter. If you liked it, consider sharing with a friend. And, as always, please please please send any feedback our way.
Olivia and Fiona