Freedom Work: Veteran’s Day, My Family and What’s Next

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Last week, along with celebrating the wedding of my cousin and his bride in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, my family traveled from Raleigh to Wilmington, NC to visit the warship my grandfather served on during World War II (he’s top row, second from right in the photo). It made my grandfather’s legacy viscerally real for me to touch the work he did as a teenager. He and his four brothers were drafted or enlisted and all survived. Craziness. There is so much to say about this trip and I cannot wait to share these insights about this era and his generation with my students in the Spring when we cover those times. Thank you to the many Veterans of all ages, colors, creeds and conflicts. 

Now though…

With this new election we are seeing the result of what happens when people feel empowered by their political leaders to draw a clear line between people who ‘win’ and people who ‘lose’. I think we’ve all lost. My Grandfather would be astounded by what we’ve been reduced to.

While I see and read about the tangible evidence of hate crimes and hate speech expressed under the cover of the 1st Amendment, I refuse to acknowledge that the majority or even a large minority of people who voted for Trump condone these actions. But he won.

So I’d like that subset of the population to ponder this…

As many people have pointed fingers at our Muslim communities around the Western World to police their communities for extremists, our white communities must do the same. Obviously, expecting Muslims to report of their shady neighbors is not a reasonable policy for myriad reasons, but the shoe is on the other foot now. What is the responsibility of white communities to police this divisive and vindictive behavior that calls us toward ruin?

Everyone has a role in stopping this train from derailing. Especially the winners.

What have our Veterans fought for, if nothing else?

My students are shocked and worried.

I am trying to take a step back for them so I can pause their fears of this new world. I  promise them that we are better than this. That this election was not a referendum on  their humanity. Part of me feels like I am lying to them. Part of me knows I am not. 

My standing in society is secure no matter who wins elections. My students are not so lucky. I give voice to this, but my acknowledgement does nothing to change anything. 

I’ve also been emphasizing that their work begins now. Nearly everyone in the Sophomore class and older can vote in 2018. From that standpoint, these results are inspirational. (I know, easy for me to say)

This is Freedom Work. You know it. It’s the work of being an American: Black communities have never stopped doing this work. Native American communities have never stopped the fight to survive in the face of tarnished treaties and being rounded up, surrounded. 

White communities have fought too, often side-by-side everyone else. Standing against union-breaking and engaging with class issues and dreams of upward mobility are in everyone’s blood. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to now. From ghettoizing the Irish and Italians, how America treated its freedmen after the Civil War, how we gave life to the reservation systems, how women faced hatred in earning the right to vote. How these roots relate to now.

The Freedom Work, against all that does not liberate us, started as soon as Jefferson wrote all men are created equal

Freedom in this country is not validated or erased by an election. It is ever-evolving. It is ephemeral. It is bloody. It is everyone’s. It can be understood from many angles.

But if someone else is not liberated, no one is.

Ask our Founding Fathers. Ask our Veterans. 

A note to my family. 

Many of us have been on the sidelines throughout this election. This decade.

Members of our family abstained from voting in this election because they couldn’t justify for either side. Others of us voted Trump, contorting into and out of and next to and removed from all the ideological and moral darkness we knew he stood for. Others no doubt protest voted third party. Others voted for a status quo that they knew wasn’t inclusive enough or meaningful enough. Our wide Irish net is a strong example of the wide spectrum of American white perspective.

Many of us have been still or silent on the work of Freedom for all. In this context, our family is not unique.

Let me reiterate: I think many of Trump’s voters, on at least some level, are also deeply disturbed that he won. I think that’s fair to say.

So, it’s time to join this work even if you voted for him. Whether you are Conservative, Green, Liberal, or otherwise. Get involved with stiff-arming hatred and misogyny by confronting it. Engage with communities that are not your own. Read books that are rooted in the many perspectives of Freedom Work. Pray with your spiritual community and outreach to a different one. Knowing 49% of people did not vote, get people to participate. However you want to engage, get to it!

After Tuesday (and truly no matter who won), inaction threatens the Democratic process and freedom for all.

Lots of Americans have been doing this work every damn day. Their life continually depends on it.

Now ours does too. Live accordingly. It’s an opportunity to create alongside your fellow Americans! How great is that?

With love and openness,

Your Son, Brother, Grandson, Nephew, Cousin, Uncle, Husband, Soon-to-be-Father

I want to be as inclusive as possible in this final section while knowing I’ve already turned many away from this post. For some it’s not enough – they’re right. For some I’ve gone to far – they’re not ready.

Saying that people across the electorate are dissatisfied with the entirety of this election is an insulting understatement to how misrepresented we all really are. I understand there are issues that will always divide us: marriage equality, economic policy, ongoing war. That’s encouraged! It’s healthy, dammit. 


If this Administration is so distasteful to so many people, and so many Conservatives specifically, we have a grand opportunity to build new movements against immorality, disenfranchisement, injustice, misogyny and complacency. What will this Administration do (or has already done?!) to our spiritual communities and selves? Our environment? Our shared sense of Americanness? Our sense of building a better world for our children and grandchildren? Our obligation to our sisters and brothers from across the country and world?

How do my questions intersect with your uncertainty? 

The following is my new approach to the next four years.

How are we going to make America great again?

Not by violence. Not by hiding. Not by stoically watching it burn. 

‪We are obliged by this election to make Trump’s legacy one of bringing people together from across the aisle and the country because a movement such as that, in a profound sense, will deconstruct the narratives employed by a majority of his campaign/pundits/cabinet/trolls about the falsehoods and shortcomings of shared identity and diversity in American classrooms, ideologies, communities, electorates, coalitions, protests, Freedom Work.

This obligation pushes back against any perceived mandate of this election (Congressional and Executive sweep) because what will emerge is a new American sense of principled and spiritual responsibility. No matter who won, this election was (re)purposed to destroy that shared sense of humanity. Because of who won, we will (re)build this shared sense of humanity passionately.

Creating this new American interdependence of communities, people, and agency will clarify the hate politics for those who willfully overlooked them in their 2016 vote (or non-vote) and it will be the antithesis of how this President and far too many within his base will want these years to be remembered.

This election does not depress, dissuade, end—it is the beginning, a thrust, our call. We are impelled.

We have no choice but every way forward—

  • in supporting new politics and young leaders while acknowledging and owning the traditional foundations of our shared history of Freedom Work
  • by deepening shared understanding of planetary fragility to discover economic opportunity and collective civic purpose (as in localized food systems and education)
  • through sharing tables and tasks to strengthen spiritual coalitions and communities
  • by revitalizing our broken spirit to emphasize good and truth and ethics
  • in building a broader sense of the meaning of dreams and prayer for this America and what America is to come when we all are gone

—so that we continue the Freedom Work inherent to the opportunity of liberty and justice for all.

Proposed readings:

This post was inspired by my conversations, inspiration and reflection on these texts I have completed or queued up for this year and beyond. Buy yourself a Christmas present and boost that economy:

3 thoughts on “Freedom Work: Veteran’s Day, My Family and What’s Next

  1. edwarddougherty64 says:

    Well said, Mr. TeachPoet. One way forward in this Freedom work was expressed be Eboo Patel on On Being (podcast available). He said that we must be able to differ on ultimate concerns, like the very definition of justice or faith or when life begins, and still work together on some things, like our local volunteer fire departments or PTA.

    To oppose the overt racism that is being expressed conservative Evangelicals and Black Lives Matter activists could collaborate on funding a ad or coordinating a rally. Members of one group need not sign on to the total agenda of the other, just find the shared values. This will require listening and understanding of those we may disagree with on a wide range of issues.

    It will be hard work, and it will swim against the tide of current politics.

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