Photo by TM Lankford. All rights reserved.

On the Four Freedoms

Considerations in the 21st Century

A near perfect enchantment surrounds the celebration of our nation’s founding. One need not feel guilty to have never served in the armed forces. One need not remain in somber memorialization. One need not buy gifts galore or spend solo hours preparing a meal. One only needs to spend a day relaxing into the peaking summer — hopefully with cherished others — and, if so inclined, cap the evening with a sky-rending celebration of fireworks.

Nothing more and one could do less.

To appreciate being an American means consciously enjoining and enjoying our freedoms. The Fourth hands us opportunities to do so in spades. Still, a moment for reflection remains. Not on men in powdered wigs or idolized notions of manifest destiny. No, 243 years in, we’d do better to consider where we are going in light of where we have been.

FDR provides a nice jumping-off point. Not a perfect man or president — there’s never been one… sorry Barack — his speech to the 77th Congress on 6 January 1941 stands as a hope for the future to this day. From it, we glean the Four Freedoms [emphasis added]:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way — everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear…anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Each of these freedoms loops into the other. They create a Venn diagram of human rights. Eleanor Roosevelt understood this. She utilized the four freedoms in lobbying for and helping draft the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Note something extremely essential to truly understanding what President Roosevelt said. He does not limit his case from sea-to-shining sea. Instead, he emphasizes that every freedom be secure everywhere, anywhere in the world. The United States must therefore set the example — at home.

Are we?

As we cage children at our borders, what are most of us actively doing to halt the practice? As Islamic and Jewish community centers are defaced, how are we, not of those faiths, standing visibly beside them? As our elders choose between medication and hunger or our youth between education and housing, where is our collective, viable outrage that erases the need to choose? As people of color are forced to look over their shoulders despite following every letter of The Talk, why do we allow a society where such a talk is even necessary?

As… As… As… Intertwined, interwoven, intersecting.

So this Fourth of July, the challenge is to begin. Begin going beyond the keyboard. Begin enjoining your freedoms on behalf of others. Begin not just speaking but expressing; not just praying but performing; not just wishing but giving; not just hiding but marching.

If we do this, maybe… quite possibly, we will become a nation where our promises move from parchment and marble to practicable undertakings. And we will embrace an even grander reason to relax into the peaking summer with cherished others and celebrate with sky-rending fireworks a freer nation.



T.M. is an educator, writer, photographer & Jarhead veteran. He lives with his husband Hank and their dogs in OK. Travel, coffee, and a good story make his day.

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TM Fordith

TM Fordith

T.M. is an educator, writer, photographer & Jarhead veteran. He lives with his husband Hank and their dogs in OK. Travel, coffee, and a good story make his day.