Liberty: Mission NOT yet accomplished

Artdog Quote of the Week: 


In case you were wondering, John F. Kennedy said this in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961. He was speaking to the world, during the Cold War with the then-Soviet Union, and he had human rights all over the world–particularly in impoverished countries elsewhere–on his mind when he said it. 


I’m not sure he gave as much thought to the poor of the United States when he addressed “those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery.” But we had our own share of huts, villages, and the urban equivalent when he addressed the nation that day.

Kennedy didn’t need to look beyond our own shores for people “struggling to break the bonds of misery.” This Appalachian man’s rural Kentucky community had lost most of its jobs by the time John Dominis took this photo in 1964.
Urban poverty in Harlem, New York: the Fontenelle Family, outside their home in 1967, as photographed by the legendary Gordon Parks.

When you speak stirring words, people everywhere may challenge you to live up to them. What we now know as the Civil Rights Movement and the Feminist Movement already had begun to stir before this speech, but they grew in impetus during the decade that followed this speech. 


Unfortunately, the work of neither movement is anywhere near being finished yet.


Later in his speech Kennedy proclaimed “a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself,” and at the end he challenged his countrymen to “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” 

Long-term poverty persists in Appalachia, despite 50 years having passed since the “War on Poverty” was declared in 1964 (in another Inaugural Address, this one from Lyndon B. Johnson).

I would submit to you that the work Kennedy laid out for us is as much needed as ever, and nowhere near finished. Not even right here in our own back yards. 

Not as much has changed on those fronts since 1960 as we’d like to wish, and while the problems grew worse for many in 2008, they have been far more deeply entrenched, for far longer. There’s never yet been a golden era when poverty was eradicated for everyone.

Homelessness among the urban poor grew worse when the psychiatric hospitals began discharging many of their patients in the 1970s and 1980s. It got another boost during the Great Recession that began in 2008.

And it seems to me that a greater sense of civic duty among all of us, directed at making our communities safer and more healthy for ALL of us, would go a long way toward preparing us for our country’s greatness in the future. 


Liberty for all is an ideal, a goal–but never a destination. We can never stop and say, “okay, that’s done.” Now: do I mean to say that freedom from poverty equals liberty? No, not at all. But it’s only when people find ways to ease the desperate burden of poverty that they can begin to find ways to live up to their truest potential and be their best selves. Once they can do that, they can begin to participate in the joys of liberty.Without those base-line necessities, the rights, privileges and duties of liberty can seem a distant, impossible dream.


IMAGES: Many thanks to Quoteszilla, via the Quote Addicts “Patriotic Sayings and Quotes” page, for this image. Thanks also are due to the UK Daily Mail, for the photo of the Appalachian man (photographed in 1964 by John Dominis for LIFE Magazine) and the Harlem family (photographed in 1967 by Gordon Parks), to the Turkish Daily Sabah for the photo of the homeless US veteran (photographer unattributed), and to the New York Times for the photo of Ms. Short and her dog in West Virginia (photo by Travis Dove).

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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