Post 39: #Coronavirus and a global perspective on…#freedom

We’re sharing our experiences, thoughts, and uncensored opinions during lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation. For some of us, it’s DAY 39. 

Freedom and Birthdays

Norma B. Wallace, Bend, #Oregon

Freedom has different meanings for each of us at different times in our lives. 

An 18th birthday is marking entry into adulthood – a perceived feeling of being able to do whatever you want. Yet for my grandson, a young Wallace, he doesn’t get the simplest freedom of going out except for groceries till after the lockdown, due to the #Coronavirus. We will celebrate his birthday via Zoom. Freedom for William Wallace, the Liberator of Scotland [many, many generations before my grandson], meant Freedom for his country. 

I remember that my freedom as an 18-year-old was simply that I could do what I wanted. Yet I lived at home, and in 1962, that meant living by my dad’s rules. When I was asked out on a date, by my future husband, I was told “no” – not unless his aunt went with us. I wasn’t used to that type of reaction, but my father had a preconceived notion that I shouldn’t go out with Bill. We went out with Bill’s aunt, then proceeded to a pizza place on our own. I felt like I got my freedom despite the restriction. Bill and I were married for 54 years.

Freedom, no matter what the freedom, comes with responsibilities. I hope when the lockdown is over, everyone will take responsible precautions so that they are not infected, nor infect others, with this dangerous virus.  I feel that despite the restrictions, we can have freedom. We will need to maintain social distancing; perhaps wear masks until there is a vaccine, cure, or something that science says makes it safe. Your newfound freedom of movement will be precious as you have lost that freedom, through no fault of your own, don’t lose it again.

Be Safe.


Who can we trust?

Tina F., Fairfax, Virginia

The lack of real leadership in the USA is taking its toll on a country that has already been divided by outspoken, bi-partisan rhetoric.

Instinctively we humans either take on the role of shepherd or sheep. For centuries, we have had leaders and followers. Some forcing their way into power with might and others taking up arms against one other. Oppositions to those in power have come about when a group of people form a strong enough movement to rebel. We have seen it in every part of the world. We have seen it in this country when people protested the Vietnam war and demanded change. This is our constitutional right in the USA.

Here in the USA we are proud to be a country of the free. I like to think that after the War of Independence and the writing of the Constitution, we created a civilized country with civil rights and civil liberties. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition; freedom to bear arms; and of course, freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But freedoms need to have parameters. Laws have been implemented as far back as the 10 Commandments because people need direction. Left to our own devices, we would face mayhem, anarchy, and lawlessness.

We are currently experiencing unprecedented conditions. We have been told to shut down our businesses and shelter at home. Our children were sent home from schools to be home-schooled and we all complied.

Here we are months later, sitting and waiting. Placing all of our belief in an already fragile system.

Now Americans have begun to rebel in more than a dozen states. They believe their civil liberties and their personal freedoms have been violated. At first I thought I could see their point. People are losing so much during this economic shutdown. But here is where it all gets complicated. Who are these people? Are they frustrated workers who need their jobs back? Are they organized by conservative groups aiming to bring Trump mania back into the limelight? Why are the right-wing groups and militias taking to the streets with their guns? Do we still call them civil liberties “protesters” or White supremacists? Aren’t those the people who oppose our country’s civil rights?

We look to the president for guidance and we hear him mumble his sympathies to the protestors because he understand that “they were treated a little bit rough.” This raises the question again: Is this a campaign rally for Trump?

This country is the land of the free. We have witnessed governments around the world controlling their people through fear, undercover surveillance, and online monitoring. This is happening around the globe, not just in countries run by dictators. Yet right here in our own free backyard, we have succumbed to the fear and boarded ourselves up to stay protected from this unseen enemy.

The difference is that this is not a US problem. This is a global pandemic. This is a time where the true leaders can make a difference. But receiving mixed messages from our President and the constant barrage of media analysis does not reassure nor unify the American people.


Ayman…Jimena…Rahwa…Raj…

RJD, #Beirut, #Lebanon

Standing on a side street with his wooden cart, Ayman spends the day waiting for a car to stop by to purchase some of his jasmine plants.

My windows were half-closed. I hesitated to ask him if he had potting soil. Ayman was not wearing a mask, no gloves, and of course, no sanitizer in sight. He proceeded to walk straight to the car. He was happy to see a customer and, in his elation, totally disregarded social and physical distancing. For a minute, I thought if the window had been open, he would have leaned into the car…and my OCD went haywire!

Looking like an alien from outer space, adorned with my mask, shield, and gloves, I gently ask him to step back. He smiles. He smirks, actually.

So, we executed our soil transaction and then I decided to take the plunge. I asked him his name and where he was from. Ayman is Palestinian (I was parked outside the Bourj Al Barajneh camp, where many Palestinian refugees have lived here since the Nakba).

I playfully asked, “and why don’t you have a mask and gloves on, ya Ayman?” He again smirked at this mad alien, but with embarrassment this time. He said “Ya madam, I would rather spend the money feeding my children and they don’t do anything to protect you from the Corona.”

And right there and then, my heart was shattered into a thousand privileged pieces. Ayman would rather subject himself to the dangers of #Covid-19 to feed his children, than to protect himself.

I went further “But Ayman, if you get sick, who will feed your children then?” He lowered his head and said “If that’s God’s will, then be it.”

Poverty took Ayman’s freedom away. It also took away the freedom of over half the Lebanese population. Poverty dictates where you live, what you eat, and what water you drink. Poverty dictates that you would rather put your life in danger than to self-isolate. Poverty robs the Aymans of the world of having the choice to a better life.

Another great “advantage” of poverty is that it increases crime. When hungry, one will go to any lengths to feed their loved ones. And when a crime is committed and the perpetrator is caught, he loses more freedom by being sent off to jail. In many countries without a fair trial. And the cycle continues…

When we, in the first world, say that poverty is a violation of human rights and freedom, what are we really doing about it?

It was and is extremely necessary for the world to go into lockdown during a pandemic like this one. It is essential to protect all citizens. But is it viable for the (supposedly) 10%  of the world population who live below the poverty line, those who earn their bread from daily work, those who are forced to go to work while their bosses hunker down in luxury bunkers, not to have enough resources to adhere to the warnings and lockdowns? Is it possible that their poverty negates the advice to “wear a mask,” “shield your face,” “wear gloves,” and “wash your hands.” With what soap do they get to wash their hands?

This is what is beginning to happen here in Lebanon this week: the fabric of this lockdown is stretched to the seams. This week in Tripoli, people are protesting against hunger and poverty. No masks, no gloves, no social or physical distancing, and breaking the lockdown instructions about gatherings. They don’t care. Their freedom to provide food on the table at the end of the day was taken away from them by the government regulations and by a throned germ.

The price of the soil was $3. I gave Ayman LL20,000 (which used to be $13 and now is worth $6) and told him to keep the change. It is not much. But I also didn’t want him to feel like I was forcing charity on a working man. He smiled and thanked me. And I left reminding him to be safe. Knowing very well that what I just said means nothing to the Ayman or Jimena or Rahwa or Raj of the world.


Defining freedom

RafifJ, #Malaga, #Spain

Where does your freedom begin and mine end? It’s a question I have been asking for years, and I haven’t found a definitive answer. I tried to answer it back in 2014, when I was working on the #Syrian Freedom Charter. Along with a team of activists, we tried to define “freedom” and what it could mean for Syrians after the regime collapsed. Freedom of expression, of religion, of political persuasion…these Syrians and their families were literally dying for freedom by defying authoritarian rule and meeting to discuss freedom in the first place.

If I fast-forward to today’s CoronaCrisis, I hear slogans like “give me liberty or give me death” coming out of the mouths of White supremacists and bored, middle-class fools in #Michigan. They had the gall to march to their state capitol building – some of them armed to the teeth – demanding that their governor lift all forms of quarantine, lockdown, or social distancing.

Why? Because they were asked to stay home for a couple weeks? No, Mr. repulsive White Supremacist, you’re not fighting for liberty. You’re merely trying to defy science and common sense. And you’re armed. You don’t get to cry dictatorship or authoritarianism just because your haircut has to wait. Ms. Middle Class, you’re not living under martial law because your nails miss the salon.

Give me liberty or give me death, indeed. Try waving your weapons around a government building while Black. Or Brown. Or Arab. Then you’d learn, very quickly, the “give me death” part. Then you’d learn where your freedom ends.

And yet, as much as I think the Michiganders (and protesters in other states) are idiots, I respect their right to engage in protest. But where does their freedom end; where does yours begin? If you lived in Michigan, would you be worried that those “free” people were spreading a deadly virus? If they infected you, and you were likely to die, would you say your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness had been denied? Where does your freedom begin?

Freedom is precious. Ask any Syrian (or many other nationalities; we don’t have a monopoly on suffering) who has survived torture, or whose relative(s) is still in prison, or whose entire family was blown up when a barrel bomb exploded over the house. Ask the millions of children who have been denied a future because of an authoritarian regime that refuses to step down. Try asking the people who died, and those who are still willing to do so 9 years later, for the cause of actual freedom. Give them liberty or give them death: that has been the reality of their existence.

“Give me liberty or give me death” needs to be the rallying call for people who are truly enslaved. People whose very existence is at the whim of dictators who think nothing of mowing down civilians. Freedom of expression is too precious to be wasted on frivolous chants like “Liberate Michigan!” when your governor spells out inconvenient truths.

But on the other hand….isn’t the beauty of freedom that you get to go out and protest? Isn’t that your fundamental right, whether your cause is just, racially motivated, or just plain ignorant?

I still love the question – where does your freedom begin and mine end – and it will continue to puzzle me. I’ll leave you with a quote from a young Syrian activist:

“I am already free; therefore, I have no need for you to free me. You can imprison me, torture me; you can even stuff me into this pack of cigarettes. I will still be free. Because I’ve freed my mind, and will no longer be enslaved by yours.”

A. in Gaziantep, Turkey

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