Let Freedom Ring

The morning after Thanksgiving we took Noah to see the Liberty Bell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_Bell). Last year in first grade they studied symbols of our country. That’s why we went to see the Statue of Liberty when we were in New York City to visit my dad last December. Then when we visited my mom last May for Mother’s Day, he wanted to go see the Liberty Bell, but we didn’t have time. First grade is long gone, but Noah was still interested, so on Friday morning, we left June with Mom and drove into the City of Brotherly Love.

Even with increased security, the lines were not as long as I remembered from my childhood when every out-of-town visitor and his brother wanted to go see the Bell. Either I was less patient then, or the Bell is less popular now, or we hit a lull. Once inside its spiffy new digs (http://www.nps.gov/inde/liberty-bell-center.htm), we went straight to the Bell. We took some pictures and Noah asked a ranger about the rivets at the top and bottom of the crack. Then we watched a movie about the significance the Bell has had to different people over time.

People active in a lot of liberation movements—abolitionists, suffragettes, and members of the civil rights movement—have all claimed the Bell as a symbol. I wondered briefly if the gay rights movement ever has, but if so, I’m not aware of it. (Before HRC adopted the equal sign as its logo—back when it was still HRCF—their torch logo was probably meant to evoke the Statue of Liberty. I still have a couple t-shirts that date back to those days.) My thoughts were interrupted by a clip of Martin Luther King giving the “I Have a Dream” speech; they showed the very end:

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”


I’ve seen this speech so many times I expected to watch it with respect for its importance in American history and with admiration for the oratory, but not with much emotion any more, so I was surprised to find myself crying. Not just getting a little teary-eyed either, but with lines of tears streaming down both cheeks. I guess it’s going to be like this for a while. Until the reality of our first African-American President really sinks in (and who knows how long that will take?), these sudden flashes of astonishment and gratitude are just going to keep taking my by surprise.

We came back to Mom and Jim’s house for lunch and June’s nap. I lay down with her and slept deeply for forty-five minutes of her hour-long nap. (We’ve all been clobbered by an evil upper respiratory infection over the past couple weeks. It’s just the latest installment in our family’s Autumn of Infirmity. Anyway, it’s really wiped me out.) Fortified by the nap, I had the energy to leave the house again. Beth and I went to see Milk. If you exclude Wall-E, which Beth saw with Noah, and Horton Hears a Who, which I saw with him, Beth and I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since Brokeback Mountain (or was it Rent?). Either way, it’s been a long time. This was an event.

We got a bit turned around and missed the 4:30 showing. Beth was unsure about staying for the 5:40 one as it meant an extra hour of babysitting for Mom and Jim, plus putting the kids to bed, which wasn’t in the original deal. But I couldn’t get this close to seeing an actual movie in an actual theater and not do it so I called Mom and left a message with the kids’ bedtime instructions. I figured they were out at the video store. They had big plans involving making caramel apples, and getting movies and takeout pizza. I thought they’d be fine.

It has to be a coincidence, but the timing of the release of this film, which builds up to the defeat of a particularly virulent anti-gay proposition in California couldn’t be more poignant, coming so close on the heels of our recent loss of marriage rights in California after the passage of Proposition 8. On the one hand, it all seems so familiar, the long string of defeats, the raw anger, the frustration. On the other hand, the thought that we even had marriage rights in the first place would have seemed unimaginable to many of the 70s-era activists in the film. (Perhaps not to Milk, though. He was a visionary after all.) Gays and lesbians all over the United States did take to the streets again after the passage of Proposition 8, just as they did time after time in the movie. Beth’s and my days of attending every gay protest/rally/candlelight vigil have long passed, but we were planning to attend this one, even though it was at 1:30, smack dab in the middle of June’s nap. But when a cold hard rain fell that day, we reconsidered. Depriving a two-year-old of her nap and hoping she will drowse in the stroller is one thing. Expecting her to put up with all this and get drenched in the bargain seemed cruel and unusual, so we stayed home.

When we got home at 8:40, Mom and Jim had just finished putting the kids to bed. It was the first time anyone other than Beth or me has successfully put June to bed at night. She was again up at 9:50, but I had an hour and ten minutes to heat up and eat a couple slices of pizza and take a shower before I had to go lie down with her. This was an unexpected bit of freedom as well.

The inauguration is a noon on January 20, another nap disaster in the making and Montgomery County schools do not have the day off (at the time of writing—it’s become an issue of hot debate here in the ‘burbs). Beth and I attended the first Clinton inauguration so we know unless you have tickets, you don’t see anything but Jumbotron screens and the parade. Still, we are seriously considering pulling Noah out of school and June from her nap to take them down to the mall, to stand with our fellow Americans as history is made. When they’re grown up I’d like them to be able to say they heard freedom ring that January day when they were seven and a half and almost three. They may never have another opportunity like it.