Lift my chains

The Guardian often runs a ‘reported on this day in history’ feature from their archives. Today they quoted from the Guardian of October 6th, 1862, although the events being reported actually took place on September 22nd and had taken this long to reach Britain via a Royal Mail steamship which left the New World on the 24th and arrived on the Mersey to approach the busy port of Liverpool on Sunday 5th (steam packet and telegraph, cutting edge technlogy and quick reporting for the time), from where it telegraphed an incredible proclamation, issued by a very strange-looking, tall, awkward-seeming man who entered the history of not only his own nation but the shared heritage of the world. The man was Abraham Lincoln, the proclamation, issued during the dreadful carnage of the American Civil War was the document which set forth freedom from slavery:

“on the 1st day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any state, or any designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then thenceforward and for ever free, and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognise and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom …”

Around one hundred years after this another president had to send in the army to end the forced segregation of white and coloured school children while Rosa Parks simply refused to take a seat in the segregated spot designated for her in a bus. Forty years on from that period and in parts of the world in sweat shops women, men and children toil in conditions most of us would consider virtual slavery. And in other nations which do not have this problem (but which consume the goods made by these virtual slaves, perpetuating the cycle of exploitation) there are other forms of slavery still. Bands of iron may be gone but how many slave away chained to a mortgage and towering debt, struggling to barely keep their heads above water all so for a few short years they might have in impoverished retirement?

And then there are the more subtle forms of chains and slavery, those which we construct ourselves in our culture and philosophies, set rigid until those faculties which should be tools our minds use to contruct instead become master of is guiding our perceptions into rigid patterns: our way is always right, yours is always wrong; our race is superior to your race; this person is more valuable than that… I don’t make any claim to be free of those virtual chains, but I do see them and try to keep my mind free. The finest, sharpest weapons to achieve that liberty are discussion and reading. Coincidentally the written and spoken words are among the activities most in power, be they democratic governments, dictators or large corporations, always want to command, control, shape. All the more reason to read and to talk; every time you do, every time you write your own opinions and thoughts and feelings you are breaking some of those virtual chains. I think old Abe would approve of that.