I came across a quotation by John Milton (17th century English poet and civil servant under Cromwell) which has been stuck in my brain for a couple of days. The quotation struck me because it is one you have to read all the way to the end and then go back and pick it apart to really understand it.
Give me liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to my conscience above all other liberties. My cousin noted it on the old building which once housed the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The building which is now being torn down, which seems indicative of the times in our constant struggle for our freedoms.
It is worth studying because free speech is something we can never take for granted. The quotation first says, “give me the freedom to know. . .” Without solid information from reliable sources we cannot make good decisions whether it is in our personal lives or the life of our country. This freedom includes access to information which is where our public libraries are a vital tool and encouraging our young people to read books by authors of conscience and solid intelligence and to do it ourselves.
Once we know what we are talking about and can speak with solid information to back our thoughts, we move on “to utter”. This is freedom of speech which includes the right not only to speak out on issues important to the community and the individual, but to also belong to religions and organizations and action groups of all kinds. Milton was speaking against the conservatives in Cromwell’s government who were hampering the people’s right to be heard and taking too much power on for themselves. Our founding fathers put that human right front and center in our Bill of Rights.
And then “to argue freely”. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes talked about “free expression in the marketplace of ideas”. Can we discuss freely, allowing every person his or her conscience? Voltaire, a French philosopher, said “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Recently our State Republican Legislators passed an amendment that calls on the Justice Department to investigate “environmental groups” and everyone who is a member of such a group who lives in this State. I wonder if this includes Ducks or Trout Unlimited. As one state newspaper noted, membership in a nonprofit and/or volunteer organization is absolutely a form of free speech and the freedom to assemble. Did these legislators discuss the fact they were going to investigate Montanans and the groups to which we belong when they ran for office? The tentacles of this amendment are long and sticky and we could see them stretch far out into the rights of the people of Montana. Frankly, this amendment smacks of fascism and that crack in the door of our freedoms which soon finds many of our other freedoms gone as well. Can we assume this was an ‘oops! Didn’t mean that!’ That our state legislators did not read all the way to the end of the amendment as it was presented or even read it at all before they vote.
Scripture speaks to us of the “cornerstone”of our faith. The cornerstone is, of course, Jesus. But the Apostle Paul goes on to suggest that that cornerstone causes people to stumble and fall when they are not watchful about what they are constructing. That insight is helpful in looking at the recently proposed infrastructure plan.
I recently heard someone say, “that a budget is a moral document.” Where the money goes is where the priorities of the institution lies. Those priorities will determine the infrastructure, that is the success and stability, of that institution. Many years ago I remember a community member resigning from our school board because all the discussion was on bricks and mortar and not on students and learning. School boards need to begin with the students and their needs and then work out from that point. A former pastor once told our church board that a “Church budget is always a faith document.” If everything is going for upkeep and very little for missions and outreach and dealing with the poor, then the church has lost its focus. Better to have a storefront church than be wrapped up in a building and its beautification. I saw a poster that said, “Wear the old coat, buy the new book.” Again a statement on where your priorities are.
Now of course budgets need balancing and there is a need for contingency funds both personal and for larger institutions. But all focus should be on what good that budget can do. Children need to have comfortable desks, safe rest rooms, good meals, broadband access and well-stocked libraries. Teachers’ salaries need to measure what we are calling on them to do. Hospital personnel need the supplies and equipment to save lives. Savings, yes. Commonsense projects, yes. But still, the lives and well-being of those who call this place “home” should be our main focus.
I wish the U.S. Congress could take a bus trip throughout the country to inner cities desperation and poverty and rural isolation. “This isn’t flyover country. This is home.” (Sen. A. Klobuchar)
That is why I have been pleased to see the definition of the recent infrastructure bill includes more than bridges and roads. Infrastructure is the foundation built of everything we need to thrive, not just survive, as a people. That is why the talk of broadband access for every person in the country, for example, is so important. Someone recently pointed me to an article in the book OUR TIMES OUR LIVES about a Works Progress Administration project in Glendive. The WPA, i.e. government, brought in heavy-duty sewing machines and sewing rooms were set up in the basement of the high school and in Richey from 1935-1940.
Bundles of cut material came from Butte for boys’ and men’s shirts, children’s coveralls, girls and women’s blouses and slacks and men’s work pants. Recipients of the clothing were many. They mass-produced clothing for the poor, made curtains for the CCC camp near Butte and made bandages. Many volunteered time to make quilts after hours and fix football uniforms. Something to provide work for women, a little extra income and work with a purpose. It was all for building a sturdier foundation.
Infrastructure covers every aspect of our lives — racial equity, health care, insurance, and free clinics, for example. Our government buildings like our City Hall need updating and better accessibility for every citizen. The farm to market roads need care and anything having to do with transportation of goods and services to people (i.e., markets) — air service, rail service, ocean travel must be updated and cared for.
The past few years there has been a chipping away at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to be shaped into a document that serves only special interests and a certain economic class of people. The issue of infrastructure is already political. Stubbornly, both sides put up unnecessary roadblocks simply because they don’t want the other fellow to look good. “A budget is a moral document”. We have millions and millions of people in this country who need help. The Depression of the 1930s may be 80 years ago, but the problems and issues are basic and moral ones and are still with us. The rich continue to fill their pockets and the politicians continue to accumulate power. And the people suffer.