Something to be Thankful for: Freedom of Speech (and Calvin Klein)

November 24, 2011

Call me old-fashioned or idealistic, but there is something really touching about the Four Freedoms paintings Norman Rockwell produced during World War II: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Religion Freedom from Fear, and Freedom of Speech.

Today, we’re living in a different political landscape, but those four freedoms are no less poignant or alive as they were in the 1940s. The freedom of speech, especially, is relevant today. It’s rare that a week will go by that I don’t see some sort of protesting going on outside my office building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. While I don’t always sympathize with the cause (or, frankly, can’t read the posters -- not all handwritings are created equal), it is nice to know that the freedom of speech is one that is encouraged and protected by our Bill of Rights.

This week, a group of ten Democratic politicians took to Birmingham, AL, to visit a site of civil rights significance: the 16th Street Baptist Church. The church gained a tragic place in civil rights history in 1963 when four young black girls were killed there in a Ku Klux Klan bombing. More than two thousand people met there this past Monday to protest Alabama’s new law targeting undocumented immigrants. The law prohibits businesses from contracting with illegal immigrants, with the assumption that American citizens will fill the vacant positions, but so far has had dubious success.

The point of this particular protest was to protect families and promote immigration reform. Protesters shared personal stories and rallied in support of the One Family One Alabama movement to overturn the law. Speakers called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan so that families can come together, and stay together.

Many undocumented immigrants come to the US seeking economic opportunities so their families can be free from want. We’ll gladly take cut-price produce that they pick and drive the cars they assemble and live in sturdy homes that they build. They provide the back-breaking labor that keeps the invisible foundation of our daily lives running smoothly. But many undocumented immigrants live in fear: fear of discovery, fear of being torn from their loved ones. And that is why we must speak up.

In our nation’s history, the freedom of speech is inexorably tied to our right to assembly. We’ve seen it exercised all season with the Occupy movements: mostly peaceful protests in major cities all over the country -- a stark difference from the protests characterized by violence and gunfire in Libya, in Egypt, in Syria. Even as we rally for immigration reform, we’re lucky to still, for the most part, live free of fear. These freedoms that we have are truly remarkable. And that’s something to be thankful for.

But in case you need just one more thing to be thankful for:

Calvin Klein recently featured its first Asian male model to walk for its fall 2011 menswear show. I, for one, wholeheartedly support a stronger Asian American presence on American runways. So who was that barrier-breaking face? Jae Yoo, a Korean American neuroscience student at the University of Michigan.

You’re welcome.


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Photo Credit: Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S), National Archives at College Park.