Op - Ed, Opinion

In many ways, it’s a wonderful year for freedom and democracy

By Narain Batra

Editor’s note: Narain Batra is a media and First Amendment scholar affiliated with the diplomacy and international program in the graduate college at Norwich University. He lives in Hartford.

Joy to the world! Freedom is rising.

On Dec. 6, we saw another embodiment of what the American dream is made of: A woman once working in the cotton and tobacco fields in the South “helped pick her youngest son to be a United States senator.”

Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, celebrated his Senate victory by summing up succinctly the long struggle of the Blacks: “I am Georgia. I am an example and an iteration of its history. Of its pain and its promise, of the brutality and the possibility, but because this is America and because we always have a path to make our country greater, against unspeakable odds, here we stand together.”

Sen. Warnock, a spiritual heir to Martin Luther King Jr., would raise his voice for the working poor in the Senate as he did during the past two years, seeking funding for Black colleges and universities, maternal health care, and decrepit infrastructure, among his other modest legislative efforts.

With 50+1 (Kyrsten Sinema opting out to be independent) Democratic seats in the Senate and the Republicans controlling a majority in the House, a new balance of political power has been struck that would require compromises at every step rather than either party bulldozing its agenda.

After the 2022 midterm elections, America does not seem to be at cultural war, a house divided against itself or a bitterly polarized nation. It is to be seen, however, whether the two parties would race to the 2024 elections based on their accomplishments in the next two years, or remain hostage to the vituperative rhetoric of Donald Trump, whose recent clarion call has been to terminate the rules of the U.S. Constitution to let him redeem his rightful victory from the “False & Fraudulent Elections,” as he scribbled on his platform Truth Social.

More than anything else, the United States needs freedom from Donald Trump.

But freedom has many faces and manifests itself in many forms and avatars. When on Thursday, Dec. 8, Congress finally passed the same-sex marriages federal mandate, the Respect for Marriage Act, with a 258-vote bipartisan majority, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a devout Catholic, banged the gavel to the loudest cheers: “Today, we stand up for the values the vast majority of Americans hold dear: A belief in the dignity, beauty and divinity — spark of divinity — in every person, and abiding respect for love so powerful that it binds two people together.”

It was a rebuke to Justice Clarence Thomas, who in his comments last June on the overturning of Roe v. Wade said that the idea of marriage equality should be reconsidered, among other things.

There seems to be a growing cultural lag between the moribund thinking of some of the Supreme Court justices and the changing mode of consciousness of the American people.

The winds of freedom are  blowing everywhere. In demonstrations against draconian Covid-19 lockdowns, the Chinese people, despite ubiquitous surveillance and digital firewalls, burst out in public protests, shouting, “We want reform, not Cultural Revolution. We want freedom, not lockdowns. We want votes not a ruler. We want dignity, not lies. We are citizens, not slaves.’’

As Li Yuan reported in The New York Times, protesters made a most unthinkable and radical demand: “Remove the despotic traitor Xi Jinping.” Not since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement protests, which were brutally crushed, have such spontaneous protests erupted in many cities across the Communist totalitarian country ,including on several university campuses.

In a limited victory for the protesters, the Chinese government lifted some zero-Covid policy restrictions. But the protests, which began when a lone warrior hung posters on a bridge with slogans that went viral, were a tip of the iceberg. Whether Xi Jinping, the absolute ruler and the third-term president of China, would be able to extinguish the sparks of freedom and keep subservient a nation of 1.4 billion highly educated people and the second-largest economy in the age of the internet, is difficult to surmise.

In mullah-ruled Islamic authoritarian Iran, the spark of freedom was lit up initially by young women, but the demonstrations later swelled to include the entire gamut of society, protesting against the morality police who had arrested, brutalized and killed 22-year-old Masha Amini for not wearing properly her hijab, the head cover, and sporting skinny jeans.

In peaceful, nonviolent protests all over the country, some women burned their hijabs while others cut off their hair, behaviors that orthodox Muslims find detestable and intolerable.

At the World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, Iran’s soccer team refused to sing the national anthem; outside the stadiums, fans shouted slogans against the regime. In sympathy and solidarity, many women in Europe cut off their hair.

Iranian security forces’ response has been repressive and savage, killing hundreds of people, including children. Apparently, it seems that the Iranian and Chinese public protests have been against the tyranny of the Islamic dress code and the zero-Covid-19 oppressive lockdowns, respectively, but deep down, they’re a cry for freedom and regime change.

The loudest cry for freedom has come from the courageous people of Ukraine and their indefatigable and unbeatable leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who since February 2022 have been fighting a most horrendous, bloodthirsty, inhumane war thrust upon them by a megalomaniac, Vladimir Putin, whose defeat would be the beginning of freedom for the Russian people and the beginning of a new Europe.

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