When growing up, I associated independence with my freshly laminated driver’s license. It was basically a pass to everything with a few limitations like following a semi-rigid curfew and scrounging up gas money.
My license literally gave me license to go where I wanted (within reason) and do anything I desired (if my parents didn’t find out.) It was like a breath of fresh air…especially when I manually rolled down the windows, letting the breeze blow through my non-airconditioned clunker graciously handed down to me from my parents.
I compare my driving independence to summertime, which is filled with all types of freedoms. Kids are free from school. Most of the world (except for my daughter who lives in New Zealand) are free from wearing heavy winter clothes. Library books are still free to read. The list goes on and on.
Summer is the perfect time for reflecting upon the ultimate freedom: Independence Day – or the Fourth of July – when the 13 American colonies were no longer subject to Britain’s King George III. This national holiday commemorates the adoption of 1776’s Declaration of Independence in a grand style with parties, parades, and patriotism. Oh, and don’t forget the fireworks. History shows that fireworks were used to celebrate the first anniversary of the holiday in 1777…and our country has carried on that tradition ever since.
To me, fireworks are the epitome of freedom. Where else can you “ooh” and “aah” in a large crowd without being perceived as a little batty? One of my clients, the nonprofit Missouri Pyrotechnics Association, holds an annual Sky Wars fireworks championship featuring award-winning pyromusicals – or “concerts in the sky” – which combine the artistry of music and pyrotechnics. Held every September in St. Louis, Sky Wars is the nation’s largest fireworks competition and one of the only pyrotechnic competitions in the U.S. The event is positively magical!
Pairing music with fireworks is the ultimate partnership. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. Ice cream and hot fudge. You get the picture. Still the perfect trifecta – summer plus fireworks and music – equals the best salute to independence.
But, of course, there are plenty more examples.
I’ve Got the Music in Me
I grew up nearly six decades ago when music was a freeing lifeline. Sad? Try listening to a happy tune on your cassette player. Really sad and wanting to wallow in that space? Then spin a melancholy record by The Carpenters on your turntable. Music is an escape from the confinements of your world. The band Queen and its liberating “I Want to Break Free” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” take you away from your sorrows and gave you a peaceful, easy feeling.
My all-time favorite childhood memory, “Free to Be…You and Me,” is a record album and illustrated book created by Marlo Thomas in the early 70s. It’s a compilation of music and skits with messages that celebrate individuality and challenged stereotypes. The overall theme: anyone – whether a boy or a girl – can achieve anything.
All things being equal: “Free to Be…You and Me” was produced in collaboration with the Ms. Foundation of Women, a nonprofit organization founded in 1972 by four women including Gloria Steinem and Marlo Thomas. The organization, which elevates women’s and girl’s voices and solutions across race and class in communities nationwide, continues to lead the charge for equity and justice for all.
This Land is Your Land
The American Dream – where freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity, success, and upward social mobility – is deeply rooted in the Declaration of Independence where “all men are created equal.” A big part of the American Dream is the ability to purchase a home.
Thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862, this law basically gave free land (up to 160 acres – perfect for individual farmers) to anyone willing to move west and till the land for five years. The U.S. government approved more than 1.6 million claims, which equaled approximately 420,000 square miles of all government-held property.
The last claim was in 1988 but, if you do some deep searching, you can still find land in various small towns itching for more people to inhabit: Kansas (Lincoln, Mankato, and Plainsville); Texas (La Villa), Colorado (Agate), Nebraska (Beatrice, Elwood, and Loup City), Minnesota (Claremont and New Richland), Iowa (Manilla and Marne), and Maine (Camden.)
Wings and Things
I have always equated freedom with soaring through the skies. Birds do it. Even bees can literally take flight when the going gets tough. Can you imagine the weightless feeling of flapping your wings and experiencing the wind whipping in your face? Simply miraculous.
My favorite feathered friend is, of course, the bald eagle. This majestic creature is the national bird of the United States and appears on America’s official seal. As one of the largest birds capable of flying, he is deemed a ruler of the skies based upon his sheer strength and power. While officially declared an endangered species in 1967, bald eagles are now found in every state with nearly 10,000 breeding pairs in the U.S.
Birds of a feather: The American Bald Eagle Foundation is located in Haines, Alaska – the home of the largest concentration of bald eagles in the world. The nonprofit, a raptor center and natural history museum, is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the bald eagle habitat through education and stewardship.
Let Freedom Ring
The Liberty Bell is a national symbol that represents freedom and hope. Once called the Old State House Bell, this iconic treasure is now located across the street from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Liberty Bell Center. The Liberty Bell – featuring the lettering “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof” – first cracked when rung after its arrival in Philadelphia in 1752. The last crack and last time it rang happened in February of 1846 when it was rung on President’s Day celebrating Washington’s birthday.
The Liberty Bell Center is in Independence National Historical Park, which is nicknamed “America’s most historic square mile” based upon its many landmarks. The National Park Service is a federal government agency that manages this and other national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties.
For whom the bell tolls: The nonprofit Honor America operates the Liberty Bell Memorial Museum in Melbourne, Florida, which is a memorial to U.S. veterans of all wars that features one of 25 known replicas of the original Liberty Bell.
She’s a Lady
The Statue of Liberty is a figure of Libertas, a robed Roman liberty god. She holds a torch above her head with her right hand and a book in her left hand inscribed with the date July 4, 1776, in Roman numerals. The copper statue – sporting a broken shackle and chain at her feet to commemorate the recent national abolition of slavery – was a gift from France to the U.S. in 1886. She is seen as a symbol of welcome to immigrants arriving by sea.
Situated on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, the National Park Service maintains the statue that remains a major tourist attraction that is open to the public. In 1916, access was barred to the balcony around the torch. This past Fourth of July the city marked the arrival of a second Statue of Liberty – a nearly 10-foot-tall bronze replica from France called the “Little Sister,” which spent a few days across from the original statue on Ellis Island. The smaller sibling will be on display at the French ambassador’s residence for the next decade.
A work of art: Opened in 2019, The Statue of Liberty Museum is a freestanding 26,000-square-foot museum on Liberty Island that provides a deeper understanding of Lady Liberty’s history.
Freedom is about flexibility and opportunities to do what you want, be who you want, and say what you want. Nothing represents freedom to me more than my well-preserved 40-year-old driver’s license, a summertime filled with fireworks and music, and, most importantly, my life as a U.S. citizen. I think Beyonce (aka the Queen B) in Destiny’s Child’s hit song “Independent Women” said it all with just this one line: Ladies, it ain’t easy being independent. Now isn’t that the truth!
What part of your life do you equate with freedom and independence? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Originally published on Lead Up for Women and featured here with author permission.