July 2008 – The Challenge of Freedom

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By Mark Lipman

I sit here looking out my window at the world around me. For 232 years I have been free, or so I am told. Free to live, free to speak, free to write, free to think as I see fit, all thanks to the courage of those who would stand against oppression and tyranny; who for the sake of mankind would put their lives at risk, who would forfeit all that they had for the ideal called freedom, so that I would not, so that my children and theirs would not have to live beneath the iron heel of a monarch’s boot.

It is thanks to them and those like them that we are able to celebrate our independence; that we are able to look upon our democracy as a beacon of hope. It is for those who fought and continue to fight in the belief that all are created equal, that rich and poor, that housed and homeless, whether black, white, American, Mexican, or Iraqi, we all have the same God-given human rights guaranteed by birth, that I stand before you today.

For as I believe in the idea of America in all its greatness, portent and potential, such that my breast swells with a patriotism, which could only be birthed from a love of one’s native land, must I bare the cold hard truth that something is amiss with the U. S. of A. and it can all be traced right here to Venice, California.

As we all know, this country is at war, a war that, for the most part, we are able to realize was founded on a bed of lies. It would also not surprise anyone to know that a great majority of Venetians are opposed to the war. Yet, consciously or not, on a daily basis we contribute to and propagate the war right here at home, just so that we might maintain the precious illusion of freedom.

What does it mean to be free? Surely it is not something that you can only have if you are able to buy into it. That defeats the entire definition of the word. It is not something that you can hold in your hand by putting up a wall, or a fence, or an ordinance; and truly, if we are all equal, it is not something you can have by denying it to others.

That is the crux of the matter. Our society has been so manipulated by the belief that to succeed and be happy it must be every man for himself. We have forgotten that we all live on one planet and whether we sink or swim, we’re all in this together. It is not possible to maintain a balance if a handful of individuals prop themselves up by standing on the backs of the great masses. It is shortsighted and selfish and will only lead us all to disaster.

If we in Venice are truly against the war we must come to realize that war is merely a by-product of capitalism; that capitalism is, by its very definition, the antithesis of democracy. As long as the two remain intertwined there can not be peace in this world.

By understanding this we hold a great power, for the only thing binding these two forces together is fear. Through fear we are controlled, like puppets on a string, to work against our own best interests.

Here in Venice, there has been a lengthy debate over safety, yet instead of coming to the realization that we are safest when we care for the needs of others, we call for more and more police to stand guard over our fences. What we see is that there has been a mass of confusion over the definitions of safety and security. Where safety is looking both ways before crossing the street, security is a prison lock down.

If we truly love freedom then it is our duty to defend it with our actions. I do not wish to live in a police state, I wish to be free and therefore I choose the safer path, the path of freedom. What we need in this world is less police and more compassion and where better to begin than in Venice?

Venice is after all an international city. The eyes of the world are upon us. What we do gets reported throughout the world by every tourist that comes our way. It is only fitting that we pick up the gauntlet that has been thrown down to us and rise to the challenge of standing up for something greater than ourselves.

With the resources and talents we have right here in Venice we can create a community that can be held up as the example for the rest of this planet.

By letting go of our fear we allow ourselves to love. By loving our neighbor, whether they live in a house, a car, or a cardboard box, we automatically look for ways to care for their needs and in so by doing we create the bonds of trust which become the bedrock of a safe and free society.

Instead of shunning others and hiding ourselves away out of fear from anyone who would look or dress differently than us, we might try saying “Hello.” What we might discover in the process is that we all have much more in common than not. By opening ourselves to communicate we might actually find that we are surrounded by friends; that the only thing there ever was to fear was the fear itself.

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