By Zilong Wang
At the end of the first 24 hours of the 2011 Freedom Ride, I would like to do some reflection on my learning.
It has been extremely inspiring to exchange ideas with both generations of Freedom Riders. At the same time, learning about the original Freedom Ride has been a humbling experience: compared to the original 1961 Freedom Riders, we students haven’t yet contribute anything comparable to their courage and wisdom. We, the forty students, have been very fortunate: nice hotel, delicious food, wireless bus, press and media (instead of violent mobs) waiting for us at our bus stops. It is exactly because of the sacrifice of the 1961 Freedom Riders that we are able to enjoy the peace and liberty today. We are grateful, and we realize how much responsibility we are carrying as the youth of the new century.
Actually, I believe that we, the students, have mostly been at the receiving end of society’s care and resources: college education, generous scholarships, attention from family and community, even people serving us in hotel, restaurants, and buses, etc. Now is the time that we start to put the energy back into the society, to repay the debt we owe to countless people and institutions, and to make the system better by our collective actions.
Today, we also initiated the discussion on “freedom and justice,” key words of our Ride and activism. Before we jump right into the debate on freedom and justice, I would like to take a step back and reflect upon the meaning of these two words.
We are almost biologically conditioned to love words like “freedom” and “justice.” These words makes us feel so good; they go right into our guts, and sometimes bypass our scrutiny. I wonder: what do we mean by freedom? When we join each other in the cause for freedom, do we have a good understanding of what we want to achieve? What comes after? The same question would be valid for “justice” and all other big words that we use (or abuse, from time to time).
I believe that one of the greatest injustice is to assume that there is such a definition of justice that fits everyone and every nation; and, it is one of the worst mockeries of freedom to impose our own definition of freedom upon other people and groups. If we are too self-righteous about our own understanding of freedom of justice, then we risk turning these words into tyranny and hypocrisy. We have to be especially conscious and cautious about joining the parade of “freedom or justice,” and to think twice before we preach our beliefs to others. This awareness might be the beginning of true freedom and justice: free from prejudices and arrogance, just from the perspective of others.