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Stewarding Liberty

July 22, 2018

By Gayle Brandeis

On the 4th of July, I watched in awe and admiration as Therese Patricia Okoumou scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty. I love how she was taking such visible, breathtaking action to protest the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies, how she was using her body to take a literal stand—not just a stand, but a climb, elevating herself the way Lady Liberty elevates her torch, turning herself into a beacon. The fact that she is an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo makes the action all the more moving, all the more meaningful.

I have a special connection to Lady Liberty, myself, albeit a less spectacular one. In 1986, when I was 18, my essay on the meaning of liberty was installed in the Centennial time capsule of the Statue. I was one of six teenagers—three American, three French—to receive this honor via an essay contest sponsored by the United States Information Agency, the propaganda arm of the US government. The six of us were flown to Washington, DC, where we met famous journalists and a former Supreme Court Justice, and got to tour the White House. Ronald Reagan wasn’t there, but we did get to meet his press secretary and have our pictures taken at the podium in the White House Press Room. I was pretty naive at 18—I remember asking the secretary “Do you ever keep anything from the American people?” and he laughed and said “Of course”; I remember the chills that traveled through me when I realized, for the first time in my life, that our government is not as transparent as I had assumed. Continue Reading…

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