After slaves were freed in the United States in the 19th century, how much really changed for them? For the most part, they worked on the same land, did the same labor and worked for the same plantation owners. How exactly did their lives change when they were told they were free?
The slaves in the United States had worked hard and had nothing to show for their work. When we look at the sharecropping contracts they signed after they were allegedly free, it’s clear that their lives were just as controlled as they had been before. The only difference was that they now had a piece of paper that said they were free.
If you look at the typical sharecropping contract they signed, it’s clear that they didn’t have a chance to change their lives. They were leasing small tracts of land from the plantation owner. They went into debt — to the plantation owner — for the tools and animals they needed to work the land. They were required to mill the cotton at his cotton gin at a specified price. They were required to pay back the money for the tools out of the first cotton of the season. If there was anything left over, they could buy their own food, of course. But the plantation owner had the right to end the contract and kick them off any time he wanted.
When most of society slowly moved from something such as a feudal system to modern-day democracy, how much has really changed? We can only have land as long as we keep paying for it. (Even if we don’t owe a bank anything, the land is taken away from us if we don’t pay yearly “rent” to the state in the form of property taxes.) In many cases, young people go into tremendous debt — student loans — to get the tools that will allegedly allow them to survive in the world. (And the contract is written in such a way that they can’t discharge those debts through bankruptcy.)
If the state decides it wants the land where we live — to give it to a private company, for instance — our land can be taken from us. If the state decides to change any rule about our lives, it can do so without our permission. The state can take any amount of money from us that it chooses to take. If we decline to hand over what we’ve made, the money will be taken from us and we’ll be put into jail. Not only that, but the money we get is worth less and less — in real purchasing power — because of state spending and the decisions made by bankers working with the state.
There’s no question that we have better lives than the 19th century slaves or the early 20th century sharecroppers. But despite improvements, are we free? Or are we simply still slaves on a really nice, progressive plantation?
If you’re ever going to become a runaway slave, you first have to know that you’re a slave. As long as you still believe you’re free, but you live as someone else dictates, you’re enslaved to one extend or another. You’re lying to yourself if you believe you’re free. How long can you keep living a lie?
Watch this short animation about the Jones Plantation that Adam Dorsch sent me. It’s an allegory that paints a lesson that all of us need to learn. Not everyone is going to learn it. Some are quite content to stay on the plantation. But some of us would like to be free and build better lives.
What we’ve been told is freedom is just slavery with redefined words. It’s a lie.