Four Freedoms, Distilled

Jeffrey here, back in NYC.  Joey yields the floor for a summing-up.

It’s Memorial Day.  We mourn the uniformed victims of America’s wars—a few wars for survival, mostly wars of political choice.  But that’s too big a topic for this essay of summing-up.

Regarding our 1000 mile goal, Nancy relented a little.  To finish the 2018 Ride, Joey and I will do the remaining 187 miles in NYC and environs, displaying our signs and talking to people.

Maybe we’ll post a coda.  Or maybe we’ll save our local stories for when we gear up next winter for the 2019 Ride.

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We enjoyed our stay in DC.  When I was young, it was a dump.  Now it glitters.

It’s not all glitter.  Beggars—some evidently ill, others likely displaced by gentrification—are legion in this imperial capital.

The fountain outside the Library of Congress reminded me of road turtles.

A74E727C-F9FA-4F02-8B63-0F37FB1C6969And the National Portrait Gallery of prominent people, reminded me of the millions who do the real work of making a nation, and who live and die largely unknown.

Never mind glitter or turtles.  America isn’t sights or animals.  America is People.

What does America look like?  America looks like this . . .

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Shimomura Crossing the Delaware, by Roger Shimomura, an ethnic Japanese who as an American citizen was imprisoned with his family in a U.S. concentration camp. (National Portrait Gallery, Washington)

. . . because America is the country of its inhabitants.  Whoever they happen to be.

(Yes, it was a concentration camp.  See the New Oxford American Dictionary.)

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And America looks like this.

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“Golden Rule” (Norman Rockwell, 1961)

Concerning Norman Rockwell:

Human Rights First’s Washington office displays prints of Rockwell’s 1943 paintings, “The Four Freedoms”.  They were inspired by the 1941 State of the Union address in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt listed the Freedoms—of speech, of worship, from want, from fear—11 months before the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor.

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Note the headline of the newspaper.

Four Freedoms.  But why at Human Rights First?

Executive Director Elisa Massimino suggested that I read FDR’s speech to the end.  And there it was (emphasis added):

Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.  Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them.  Our strength is our unity of purpose.  To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

Imagine a president who doesn’t say that foreigners are diseased criminals; who doesn’t apply vulgar words to foreign lands; who doesn’t bully; who doesn’t praise murderers; who doesn’t worship money; who defines freedom as the supremacy of human rights.

I have been asked why I help persercuted foreigners in America, when so many Americans suffer from injustice.

My answer:  Citizens’ problems can be addressed while they enjoy their undisputed right to be here.

Our laws, though imperfect, promise protection to citizen and immigrant alike.  But when our country is indifferent to human rights abroad, and when it does not let the persecuted exercise their right to ask for refuge in America—when it turns them away without a hearing, or denies them a voice by denying them counsel—refugees have no protection.

As Yakov Bok says of the persecuted in Bernard Malamud’s 1966 novel The Fixer, “God counts in astronomy but where [people] are concerned all I know is one plus one.”

Alone, helping one plus one, we do so little, defend so few.  Alone, my voice and your voice are drowned out.

Yet when we join our voices with Human Rights First’s, we help the millions in God’s astronomy.  We are strong, we are loud, we force the slanderers, the bullies, to reach for their earplugs.

Thank you for following the 8th annual Ride for Human Rights.  Thank you for supporting Human Rights First.

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Every Ride is a plunge into the unknown.  This year, I worried that the nasty political atmosphere would poison my reception in parts of the Heartland.

But everywhere I went, people were kind and thoughtful.  Many were surprised to learn that asylum applicants are “legal”.  They were appalled that refugees, even unaccompanied children, are sent to court without a lawyer’s help.

My anecdotal encounters in 37 states convince me that Americans overwhelmingly have good hearts.  I think that religious and political leaders who address immigration issues calmly and simply, with truth and facts, would find that Americans support a return to American values.

We too can talk to family, friends, neighbors.  We can explain who refugees are and what they fled.  Gently, we can remind people of our moral (e.g., the Bible) and legal (e.g., the Refugee Act of 1980) duty to welcome and protect the stranger.

Then we Americans can make America humane again.

And when the few haters spew hate, we can answer with Rockwell’s “Golden Rule“.

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I’m grateful to the people I encountered on this year’s multipart Ride.  They welcomed me, spoke with me, gave me discounts, offered a wave, tapped a friendly horn toot, allowed my bicycle safe space on the road.

Everyone who posted a comment, sent an email or text, whether or not I acknowledged it individually, smoothed the way.  My children, Deena and spouse David in Kentucky, Rebecca and spouse Andrew in New York, Benjamin in England, were there for me.  Friends at Human Rights First had my back.  Movie-man David, who shot hours of footage in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, enriched the Ride by leading me where I would not have gone but for David’s vision of a documentary film.

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One person deserves more thanks than I can express.

Beautiful Nancy is brilliant, meticulously organized, and a gentle laugh a minute even when she’s laser-focused on business.  She bankrolls my adventures in the Heartland.

For me, the scary bits of every Ride are tangible.  What is tangible, is limited.  From afar, Nancy suffers more than I do, imagining the worst.

Where would I be without Nancy?

Home is where the heart is.

My heart is with Nancy.

Wherever I would be without my Nancy, my love, I wouldn’t be home.

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5 thoughts on “Four Freedoms, Distilled

  1. Well said! After reading some disturbing news today (and which did,, nowadays, does not bring disturbing news), I am lifted by your writings and actions. Keep on going from strength to strength as you continue to regain your physical health for next year’s ride.

  2. Jeffrey and Joey are thankfully home. We are proud that Jeffrey defends and speaks about human rights across America. After just seeing RBG, one can see that one person working slowly can make a difference.

  3. Beautiful, Jeffrey. And I’ve always loved The Fixer!
    Gina

    Director of Development
    Human Rights First American ideals. Universal values.
    Direct: 212.845.5252 | Cell: 917.860.9450 | taglierig@humanrightsfirst.org
    humanrightsfirst.org | Facebook | @HumanRights1st

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