Woog’s World: What freedom means in Westport 2015
Updated 9:25 am, Friday, July 3, 2015
Happy 3rd of July!
In the rest of the country, this is the eve of Independence Day. Here in Westport — a town that prides itself on being ahead of the curve — we’re already celebrating America. We do this today the way the rest of the nation does it tomorrow. We enjoy picnics, shoot off fireworks, and basically throw a rager congratulating ourselves for 239 years of being the biggest, best and most freedom-loving country on earth.
That freedom part is important, even though between the burgers, beer and bombs bursting in air, we don’t give it more than a cursory pat on the back.
But with all that’s happening in America these days — not to mention the rest of the world — we really should think about “freedom.” What is it, really? Janis Joplin — channeling Kris Kristofferson — called it “just another word for nothing left to lose.” Richie Havens sang the word a bajillion times at Woodstock, adding inexplicably “I got a telephone in my bosom, and I can call him up from my heart.”
I can’t top that, but I can take a stab at what freedom means here in Westport. At least, what freedom means in 2015, nearly 400 years after our ancestors stole this land from the real native Americans. But that’s another column.
Freedom is the opportunity to go to Compo Beach and enjoy one of Westport’s greatest attractions, basically whenever we want. The gate might be locked by midnight, but nothing stops anyone from wandering over any time, day or night. We sit anywhere —next to the cannons even, which we hardly realize commemorate the war in which men just a few yards away fought and died to ensure our freedom — and do whatever we like. We can swim, walk, jog, ride a bike or moped or skateboard, play softball or soccer or Frisbee. We can put on sunscreen, or tempt fate. We can’t always let our dogs run free, but that’s the price of democracy.
Speaking of democracy, if enough of us howl — as we did — we can beat back the 21st-Century version of the Tea Act. I’m stretching things for sure, but like the Sons of Liberty, we managed to turn a bad idea (in our case, changing our cherished Compo Beach waterside parking for no good reason) into a demonstration of the power of the people.
Speaking now of taxes, freedom means that we can complain about them all we want. We can say that our federal tax rate is way too high (though nowhere near as high as the 92 percent marginal income tax rate for the highest earners under tax-and-spend Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower).
We can say that our state budget is driving businesses out of Connecticut, and — in a matter of days — set up a roundtable meeting of business executives to figure out what to do about it. We can invite our governor to attend, and when he declines we can invite Florida’s governor, who is happy to come because he was going to be in this neck of the woods anyway, poaching our corporations.
We can complain that we pay a lot in local taxes (without mentioning what our friends and relatives in neighboring towns, not to mention Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey, pay). We can say that our school system needs to get a grip on spending, and then when we sell our house we get top dollar for it because, after all, our school system is one of the best in the entire freedom-loving country.
Freedom gives us — well, not you or me, but other Americans — the right to throw racist flyers on our lawns in the dead of night. We may not like the message, and we may abhor the method of delivery, but nearly every type of speech is protected. And freedom gives us the right to counter those flyers by meeting together, as a community, to talk passionately and painfully about race, socioeconomic status and many other issues that divide rather than unite us, even in 2015.
Freedom also gives us — finally, in 2015 — the right to marry whomever we choose. This is a right that Connecticut has embraced far longer than most of the rest of the nation, and has long been a no-brainer in a town like Westport. But it is a right that was affirmed, just a few days ago, by a Supreme Court. And though we seldom think about it, and often mock or even vilify all three institutions, the very notion of a Supreme Court, sharing equal power with a president and a Congress, is pretty wonderful indeed.
So broil those burgers. Pound those beers. Light up the sky. Is this a great country or what?