Celebrating Our Freedom

14687804116_c553cd4dc4_zThis is from my column in the Albert Lea Tribune on July 4, 2016. I believe we are so fortunate to live where we live and have the freedoms we do.

Rapper 50 Cent was arrested for swearing in public during a performance in St. Kitts in the Caribbean. In the United States we have the freedom to use whatever language we choose in public.

In the United States it is not illegal to burn the flag. In Argentina, Article 222 of the Penal Code criminalizes public desecration of the national flag, coat of arms, national anthem or any provincial symbol imposing one to four years of imprisonment.

We have the right to bear arms. In the People’s Republic of China gun ownership is heavily regulated and private citizens are not allowed to possess guns and penalties for arms trafficking include death.

It is the Fourth of July, Independence Day. I wonder how many of our young people know the reason for our holiday. Independence Day is a federal holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress. It was declared on this day in 1776 that the 13 American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation. We became the United States of America, separating ourselves from the British empire.

The world has changed many times over since the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Living in the United States of America has changed over the years; we have progressed and some might say that some forms of expression have regressed.

In my early years, people didn’t burn the flag — they respected the flag. The Pledge of Allegiance was said every morning to remind us of the freedoms we experienced and to show respect for our country.

Now swearing is rampant in everyday society. It is hard to walk down the street without swearing being heard in one form or another. Yet in other countries it is a crime and punishable by prison.

Social media, the news and the subject of gun control dominate conversations arguing the rights of our citizens with people voicing their opinions loudly, not caring who is disrespected.

My point is this — Independence Day, when our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they broke free so that we have the freedom to swear in public, whether others like it or not. We have the freedom to desecrate our flag, whether others feel it is disrespectful to our country or not. We have the right to bear arms no matter how high the murder rate becomes. We have the right to bash our leaders and each other because we live in a free country. Life may have been much different if the Declaration of Independence were not signed. We may not have the freedoms I just described.

We take our freedom for granted and because of it we abuse those freedoms that were supposed to be for the good of the people so that we could pursue a life of liberty and happiness.

As you are out celebrating the day, take a few moments to be thankful for the freedoms we have, and to appreciate those freedoms and our country. In all the loudness of confrontation we forget to appreciate that which our forefathers protected.

Celebrate the day. Shout for joy. Let the fireworks begin and celebrate our great country. If you get a moment take the time to sing the national anthem, recite the Pledge of Allegiance or read the Declaration of Independence to remind yourself what the day is all about – our freedoms.

What Is Your Attitude Toward the Hungry in America?

Column: Something About Nothing, by Julie Seedorf

Are you hungry? What do you do when you are hungry? Do you go to the fridge and grab a snack? Do you trek to the grocery store to pick up some groceries? If we can do that, we are very blessed.

homeless photo: Homeless homeless.pngToday I am writing about hunger in America. We live in a rural area and because we do not see homeless people on the streets we tend to think poverty does not exist in our area. Of course, we know about the food shelves and the backpack programs in our schools. We know about the homeless shelters in the bigger cities. We donate to the bell-ringers each Christmas season.

Recently the Wells Area Food Shelf Volunteers and area coordinators were invited to a movie called “A Place At The Table.” It states that 50 million Americans, 1 in 4 children, don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

This movie reinforced some of the things we already know and opened our eyes to a new way of thinking about the people who are in need of our resources. It may surprise you to know that a large number of those who use the resources available from the food shelves, the backpack program and the free meals are two-parent households working 40 or more hours a week. They are called the working poor because they work for minimum wage.

Minimum wage in Minnesota is $7.25 per hour. If you are concerned, do the math. Figure out how to live as a family of four on minimum wage. Calculate your utilities, your insurance, transportation and most of all food. Look at your own budget and then figure out if you could live on minimum wage.

As of this writing five legislators from Minnesota are taking the minimum wage challenge. I only wish more legislators were doing this and that those taking the challenge were from both parties. Maybe we all should take the challenge and walk in the shoes of those that make low wages and work for a living.

Recently I was involved in a conversation with someone whose opinion differed from mine. I welcomed that. Something is always learned from someone that thinks differently from you. The conversation revolved around those who get low pay and do some of our most valuable jobs. I can’t disagree with part of the conversation, and that is, if you get an education you should have a higher-paying job.

What I did not say was that when you do get that education you need good jobs to pay for the debt you incur getting that education.

That said, there are educated people who need help for a short period of time, too. Finding a job in corporate America has become complicated and isn’t as easy as it once was.

There are people living in shelters who have jobs but can’t afford a place to live. If you happen to be homeless and, yes, there are homeless families in our area, where do you find the clothes to be presentable at a job interview? Where do you take a shower? How do you get to the interview? Can you afford a cellphone so employers can call you? And how do you find the resources to help you through this?

Let’s examine these lower-paying jobs. In our conversations respect isn’t always connected to lower-paying jobs. Some of the top lower-paying jobs in America, according to US News, are: fast food cooks and servers, farm workers and laborers, cashiers, personal care attendants and home care aides, nannies, child care workers, housekeeping and cleaners. They are service workers who take care of us and the needs of those we love.

What would happen if all these jobs and people disappeared? We wouldn’t have anyone to care of the elderly or disabled. We wouldn’t be able to eat at our favorite fast food restaurant. There would no clerks at the grocery stores or anyone to serve us coffee or clean our homes or our hotel rooms. What about all that food we love to put on our table? Those workers that get the food to us by working in the fields and factories would no longer be here. What would happen if you took this low-wage working class segment away from America? Yet we do not want to help them survive.

Obesity is a problem in America. According to the movie and other statistics, part of the problem of obesity is because healthy and nutritious food is unaffordable for those on a low-income budget. Processed foods high in sugar, salt and high in saturated fats are cheap. Take a look at the grocery flier the next time it arrives in your paper and mailbox and see how cheap this food is. It is the food that those on a fixed income can afford to buy. Could your grocery budget withstand minimum wage?

It also might surprise you to know there are many families that do not have beds and stoves or furniture in their homes. They will never tell you. They are too proud.

It might surprise you to know there are families, single adults, senior citizens who are hungry and do not use the food shelf. They do not apply for fuel assistance. They do not apply for food stamps. They do not go to free meals. I can only guess at the reason. Could it be that they have pride and have heard the comments occasionally made by those who don’t understand the hunger and poverty that America is facing today?

These proud people have seen the looks at the grocery store that people have given to those who use government resources. They have heard the comments about those that freeload with government resources and they don’t want to be that person. They have stood in line at well-meaning free meals sponsored by organizations wanting to help. The donation basket for offering is by the food plate that is that given to them. The person ahead of them put in a $20 bill and they know they can’t do that. The person serving the food was watching. It is too hard to swallow their pride so they don’t go. It is hard to ask for help because it is something they have never had to do before.

We can keep telling ourselves that those who need help, need to help themselves. We can keep telling ourselves that it is not our problem. We need to take care of ourselves. To steal a quote from Dr. Phil, “How is that working for you?”

We have more people needing the food shelf every day. More and more that number is the working poor. The number of homeless families and hungry children are increasing each month. Older Americans who worked hard all their lives are struggling.

Until we quit blaming, until we change our hard-headed attitude about who deserves what, we will never solve the problem. There are solutions in open minds and differing opinions working together to find a common ground.

Hunger in America touches each one of us. It is the silent virus eroding our way of life that is known as the American dream.

Please take the time to watch “A Place at the Table.” It is available on online. It is also available in book form. It may change your life and the lives of others.