On the day America pauses to celebrate its independence from Great Britain I find myself wondering if there is another struggle for independence underway for many Americans. It may be a silent struggle but nevertheless restricts freedoms and enslaves its victims. For the 49 million Americans living in poverty this is not a hypothetical struggle – it is real and tangible.
We are destined to view our own individual freedom through the lens of our unique life experience and nothing focuses the view more than financial independence. Those of us fortunate enough to know the source of our next meal have the luxury of having a different view of independence than those less fortunate. Maybe it’s just a simple application of Maslow’s concept of hierarchy of needs. One cannot appreciate the freedom of nations before one enjoys freedom from poverty. Independence and freedom mean something very different to the homeless or those living in poverty than it does to the more affluent.
In 1776 the enemy was known, defined and the course of action was clear. The struggle for independence was one of commitment and force. The fate of the colonies was in the hands and under the control of the citizens. There are fewer things in life that impart more freedom that owning one’s destiny.
For the less fortunate of our contemporary citizens the battle is no less important, no less painful but the enemy is less clearly defined and the ability to fight is limited. There is no united, national cause to fight poverty, no fireworks to celebrate a child’s next meal. We hear arguments about income shares, top fractiles and the 99% but do those discussions help pay the rent tomorrow or put food on the table today for the disadvantaged? Income inequality is an issue that will continue to tear at the fabric of America. It is an insidious but chronic problem that must be addressed, but there is no such luxury of time for addressing the acute problem of hungry in America that exists today.
The seed of change is awareness. As we enjoy our 4th of July barbecues and festivities it would behoove us as a nation to reflect on the meaning of independence in all of its forms and understand that all freedom is relative. We must dare to challenge our own perspectives.