FREEDOM LIKE A KNIFE
You run around your neighborhood Am G Am
Don’t stay away, the way you should F G Am
Reckless as you want to be F C G—
Your freedom there for all to see Am G F—–
And what about the common good? C G F– Am
You wield your freedom like a knife
Threatening your neighbor’s life
While everybody’s locking down,
You get out your guns and go to town
You wield your freedom like a knife
Your president’s got other plans
Playing out the devil’s hands
Let’s all go to church today
Get together while we pray
To hell with what the doctors say
Don’t you throw your book at me F G C
I’ve read it once or twice, A to Z F G C
Says love your neighbor as yourself, F C G
More than power, more than wealth, Am G F
Don’t throw your book at me. C G F —- Am
Everybody knows, F G C
No pockets in your last suit of clothes F G C
But too much pride and too much hate F C G
Can chain you down like heavy freight Am G F
Lead you to a burning gate Am G F
Your neighbor’s fighting for her life F C G
Don’t wield your freedom like a knife Am G F
Don’t wield your freedom like a knife C G F
©Doug Hendren 2020
What’s it about? The world is in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a pathogen we do not yet understand, and for which we have at present neither vaccine nor effective treatment. The US has suffered to date roughly 1/3 of all cases, and the current US death toll has now passed 50,000.
We are experiencing a public health crisis on a scale not seen since 1917, and it has exposed serious flaws in the US public health system, including stunted CDC budgets and millions of uninsured Americans. Our doctors and nurses are working exhausting hours at high personal risk, shamefully short of face masks and other basic protective equipment. To date, there is no widespread, easily available testing program in the United States, which is essential to identify who has been exposed, and who is likely to have immunity.
In this situation, the only effective strategy is isolation, or “locking down,” to minimize disease transmission. This is an essential first phase, to try to keep the level of disease within the ability of our doctors, nurses and hospitals to cope with the demand.
Staying at home poses a real challenge for many. Shutting schools and businesses poses a financial hardship as well. The mayors and governors making these difficult decisions, like New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo, are by and large working very hard to act in the best interests of their citizens. Asking people to temporarily limit their personal liberty for the general welfare during a deadly pandemic is essential to managing this urgent challenge.
Against this tense and deadly backdrop, a small but highly vocal and armed minority is worsening the situation by public protests, defying state and local stay-at-home orders put in place for the common good. Evidence indicates that these protests, encouraged by an irresponsible president, have been organized by wealthy right-wing groups for political purposes.
In recent years, American society has become more divided that at any time in many generations. The human and economic toll from the COVID-19 pandemic are both very serious. Both are likely to be made worse by ill-advised and politically motivated attempts to re-open economic activity based on emotion rather than on science and rational policy.
The idea of “freedom” has always been near and dear to Americans. Historically, it is deeply wedded to an aspiration for justice. Think of the phrase “liberty and justice for all,” from our Pledge of Allegiance. In recent years, however, it has been hijacked by wealthy political interests to promote a narrow view of freedom from taxation – a view which has led to a dangerously unequal society, economic injustice, decaying schools, insecure families, and badly frayed democratic institutions. Many of my songs concern the many different aspects of freedom.
One thing is certain, however – Freedom is bigger than just personal license. To Gandhi’s pithy list of “seven deadly social sins,” we might add one more: liberty without responsibility. The world is now deeply interconnected. In times of a plague like COVID-19, each of us affects everyone. For better or for worse, we are all now “our brother’s keeper.” What do you mean by freedom?