Aspenites ponder freedom on Independence Day
July 1, 2010
ASPEN – It’s July 4, a national holiday characterized by raucous celebrations, parades, picnics, fireworks and all kinds of play for adults and kids alike. Ideally, it’s also a day to reflect on our rights and responsibilities as free people.In that spirit, we contacted a dozen-or-so Aspenites/valley locals and asked them to ponder whether they feel free, and the overall status of our freedoms. Most wrote their own short essays on the topic, but some preferred to be interviewed, and we accommodated them.As you’ll see, these individuals come from all walks of life. There’s a former mayor, a Holocaust survivor, a Mexican immigrant, a musician, a disabled athlete, a lawyer and even a couple of inmates at the Pitkin County Jail. Virtually everyone took a unique approach to the topic, and some consciously veered off-topic, but we figured that’s freedom.Enjoy these diverse views on freedom, and have a fun Fourth of July.
When Kurt Bresnitz entered the world, he met a bizarre crossroads.It was February 1918 in Austria, a stark turning point in world history as World War I neared its end in that area of the world. Bresnitz was born two months later than expected.From the womb, “I asked my mother, ‘Is it all right to come out?’ and she said, ‘Come out. The war is over,'” he said.Now, at age 93, the longtime Aspen resident remains the last of his family, many of whom perished in the Holocaust that took the lives of 6 million Jews during World War II.The horror started for Bresnitz, then 20, at a commercial academy in Vienna, when Adolph Hitler’s troops invaded the campus and ousted all the Jews. From there, life steadily became worse for Bresnitz and his family.His father told the children to keep quiet “because the walls have ears.””I saw old Jewish men being forced into the frozen Danube River and kept under while they suffocated,” he said.Newspapers were taken over by the Nazis, and short-wave radios, the last beacon of real information, were banned and taken from homes.Bresnitz escaped, unlike so many of his fellow Jews, to the U.S., where his uncle offered him a place to stay and an opportunity for work. He became a watchmaker, a livelihood he carries on to this day as a hobby, and moved to Aspen in 1950.From that long journey, he draws a different view of the statement, so often used during the George W. Bush years, that “freedom isn’t free.”For Bresnitz, those words aren’t about preemptive air strikes on other countries, ballooning military budgets or complex systems to wiretap a population.To Bresnitz, the statement means that American freedoms secured by the efforts of its powerful military are not to be taken for granted, and not only to be celebrated on Independence Day.From his 1938 arrival in Cincinnati from Austria with $8 in his pocket, Bresnitz built a life highlighted by military intelligence service, for which he won national accolades, and a lasting career as Aspen’s only watchmaker. He said Americans must recognize that they’re born with that ability, unlike residents of many other countries, and that their freedom came with a price.-By Aaron Hedge
What is free? Is free the ability to move about as you wish and do with your time what you want, making your own decisions along the way? Then yes, I am free.But if free is being able to be who you are and share that with anyone whose path you cross, then I am not free.As a gay man, things are different for me. You never know who is for you or against you. I always wonder what will happen when I disclose my sexual orientation to a person or how they will react when they find out that I am gay.I don’t actually fit the typical gay stereotype, so when I disclose it to someone, I usually get a reaction of shock and/or disbelief. “No way,” they say, “you just don’t seem gay.” “Well, I am,” I say, and we usually have a long and involved discussion about gay life and how it differs from the rest of the world.I knew I was gay when I was approximately 4 years old. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew that I was different than everyone else – that I had a deep, dark secret and that if anyone ever found out I would be doomed to a life of ridicule and shame. I knew then that I had to “fit in” however I could, usually by overcompensating in everything I did and trying to be the best at any task put in front of me.It wasn’t until I was in middle school in the suburbs of San Francisco in the 1970s that I really had any clue what I was. It was a different world back then. There were no positive gay role models of consequence. There were no athletes or sports heroes, politicians, policemen, doctors, teachers or movie stars who were “out of the closet.” Or at least that’s what I thought back then. All I knew about gay people were the negative stereotypes portrayed in the media, usually the drag queens that were highlighted in gay-pride parades in San Francisco. I knew I wasn’t one of those, nor have I ever had any inclination to be one. In fact, because I wasn’t like that, I despised those people as much or more than the rest of mainstream America seemed to.Those stereotypes, which exist by the hundreds or even thousands, are as wrong and ignorant about gay people as they are for any of society’s marginalized people. As a society, we must learn to ignore these stereotypes and transcend to a more accepting attitude.Now I realize that I wasted a lot of time on self-loathing, that the world is made up of many different kinds of people. (And that drag queens are OK!) I have finally come to accept myself as a gay man.I am very lucky and live an auspicious life. I am able-bodied, sane, well-traveled and have been able to try many different things in my life, unencumbered by the burdens that may saddle others in society. I am involved in Aspen Community Theater, the TEACH Diversity Program, Aspen Gay Ski Week, political causes including the Democratic National Convention, helping the local homeless and most recently, teaching. But what I hope for most is to be a positive and productive role-model for gay youth and other gay folks, so they may not have to live a secret life and may truly be free, unlike those before them.Some of you may know me and others may not, but in this small town it is likely that our paths have crossed or will at some point. As I sat down to write this, I thought to myself: “Do I really want to divulge my innermost thoughts? Do I need to shout this from the mountaintop? Should I forget all about it and continue living my life as a private and productive citizen? Or is it important for me to ‘come out’ to those who may not already know?” You can see that I’ve decided on the latter. I think it’s the right thing to do.So, am I free? I hope I am on my way to becoming free.Will I ever get there? You tell me.
A quiet family life with a wife and two children might not seem to be a likely destination for a British farm lad who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to ski. It might seem even more unlikely that the farm lad also became the top cop in one of the world’s most renowned mountain resorts.But that unusual path fell before Aspen police chief Richard Pryor quite naturally – a testament, he said, to the broad diversity of freedoms in the world.”I’m free to make my own choices in life,” he said. “What more could I ask for?”Whether that freedom is exclusive is to America, though, is another question. Pryor called it “unique” to be able to go from washing dishes, renting skis and bussing tables in Snowmass Village in the late 1980s to coordinating law enforcement at the top of the valley.But, while he said the U.S. and the Roaring Fork Valley have afforded him the opportunities to lead the life that fit him, there is no one-size-fits-all place for every person to live out their dreams. “Define freedom,” he said. “That means something different to everyone. … Freedom means different things to different people, and we need to appreciate that diversity.”Either way, though, Pryor said the valley caters well to certain kinds of people with certain lifestyles -and it offers the right kind of freedom for him.”It’s always surprising how easy it is to step into life in the valley here … to find a life,” he said. “I’m kind of shaking my head in disbelief at what I am and how fortunate I am.”-By Aaron Hedge
Freedom, what does it mean to me? What a question to ask someone who has seemingly lost all freedom. Freedoms lost or freedoms available? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? This question creates many questions within itself.The dictionary defines “freedom” in many different ways, from a condition of being free, civil rights, political independence and ease of movement, unrestricted use, or access to frankness or boldness. For those of you who know me and have mentioned that I do exercise the latter all too often, “freedom available.””Freedom lost” to me: My family and friends, the ability to spend time with them, the freedom to look them in the eye when I express my apologies and regret for the disappointment and shame I have caused them. My ultimate answer will stray from the true form of the question. Please allow me the luxury to exercise a “freedom lost” and publicly apologize to them, the ones I truly love.To my family, thank you for your unconditional love and support throughout these trying times. I hear the pain in your voice; I can feel the sorrow in your heart. For this I am truly sorry. I never intended the circumstances surrounding my life to affect you in a negative way.To my best friend, the love of my life, what to say to you? The struggles we have shared, the obstacles we have overcome, my deepest apology to you for my part in our latest and greatest tragedy. No one knows what our future holds, I just need you to know I will always love you with all my heart. No matter your definition of “freedom,” be it access to a right, independence, movement or an expression, never take your freedom for granted, for one day it may be lost.Mark Michalenko is a Pitkin County Jail inmate being held on assault charges.
Freedom may very well become another word for nothing left to lose, especially when it too is gone.The current most dangerous threat to freedom is the system of logic that encourages a person to argue that everyone else’s decisions are his or her business too. This intoxicating invitation to take power over others is usually sold as a concern for the greater good of society, but society is a concept, an idea, an abstraction; individual human beings are real. If you sacrifice what is real for what is imagined, then you lose both.Freedom isn’t about the individual versus the collective, because everyone is unique in some aspect of their lives or beliefs. We are all in a minority, and that should be the collective identity. Pick your own examples, but when you discover you cannot paint your own house your favorite color, or risk your own life because it might cost the rest of society for the medical bills, you may find that your First Amendment right to protest is not a sufficient substitute for real freedom. When that happens, accept this observation from someone radicalized by 40 years of living amidst a celebrated hipness that is mostly an excuse for being personally selfish and politically lazy: You only have as much freedom as you are willing to concede to others, and you must be willing to fight for their freedom even when yours is not at risk.The incremental acceptance of diminished freedom in the best interest of everyone and nobody often feels as if we are living in an open-air sociology laboratory. The experiment is to see just how many basic principles can be violated, how many nonconforming ideas can be ridiculed, and how much power can be gathered in a central authority without anyone realizing the damage to the individual – and raising any serious objection.Instead of objection, a clamor grows from people seeking to become the central authority.Freedom can only thrive when you distrust power, even when it is in your own hands, and deny it a home in your own heart.Jeffrey Evans is a longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident, known mainly for advocating a four-lane highway into Aspen, a cause he has pursued through the media, the ballot box and the courts.
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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”- Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776As we approach July 4, our nation’s birthday, I realize how remiss I am to not frequently reflect upon these amazing and powerful words, to not occasionally reacquaint myself with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. I am afraid I too often take for granted our liberty – our freedoms. How amazing and precedent-setting the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are. The values and beliefs embodied in these documents are the foundation upon which this country is built, and from which its strength emanates.As time passes, now more than 200 years since our founding fathers created the documents that established this great country, I believe we must be vigilant to not forget our heritage, to not take for granted our freedoms. Often like infants and young children who have yet to understand who they are and their responsibilities to others, our personal desires become paramount.How often we hear, “… but I have a right.” Freedom is not just about “me,” not just about what I believe is “my right”; freedom is that essential, self-evident truth in our society that provides opportunity for everyone. It defines how we relate to one another, so that we all can live without undue restraint from one another or from our government. Human potential flourishes in a free but responsible environment. That is the strength and greatness of our country. The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is a celebration, as it should be. But in addition to the parades, picnics and camaraderie, I think the celebration should include time to reacquaint ourselves with our country’s founding documents, to live our lives accordingly, and to give thanks for all who authored these documents, and all who have and continue to defend and keep them alive, so we may live in freedom. Helen Klanderud is a former mayor of Aspen and a former Pitkin County commissioner.
Freedom … Oh, yes, my first love.I have been blessed with an excess of freedom in this life, and I took full advantage of it. In addition to being a white, middle-class kid growing up in the United States in the 1970s, my family was loving and supportive and encouraged me to find my own path in life. As a young person, I hoarded my freedom and used it as an extension of my pursuit of happiness. Freedom meant the ability to do what I wanted, when I wanted it. Looking back, even though I might have been a fairly decent guy, I know I was a selfish and self-absorbed person. As a young person, the thought of having the responsibilities of a job, family, finances and people depending on me, seemed like a threat to my concept of freedom. I lived with this belief system for many years, pursuing my ideal life of independence and creativity. And this lifestyle worked for a long time. Then it pretty much stopped working! All this “freedom” began to leave me feeling mostly hollow and detached.I can only thank my own children for teaching me such a valuable lesson. It is only by getting out of Self do we experience any sense of true freedom. It took years of exhausting my old concept of freedom for me to be ready to accept this simple truth. I may be a slow learner, but even a guy like me can grow up someday! My life today is so much more full of genuine freedom, wonder and childlike enthusiasm than it ever was when I was out on my own, simply pursuing my own self-interest. It makes me smile to think that I don’t even really know what is best for me!Kind of like that children’s song that says “Love is something if you give it away.” Freedom seems to work that way too. Freedom used to mean the absence of responsibility and having no one depending on me. Now, these new responsibilities give me the freedom for even a guy like me to get out of my own head once in a while.Freedom used to mean the opportunity to get more of what I wanted for myself … Now it means knowing I actually need less.In closing, I want to say thank-you to my children, Jack and Katie Sheridan, for being the greatest teachers I have ever known. I love you guys so much and you have taught me what real freedom is.Dan Sheridan, a longtime local musician and father of two children, currently works for the city of Aspen.
For me freedom is in my mind: the freedom to choose or decide what I want to do without consulting someone else or hurting anyone. I am free because I decided what I wanted to study, whom I wanted to marry and made my own decision to come to the United States. I felt a lack of freedom when I came to the U.S. and didn’t speak English. For new immigrants, the language barrier is a huge hurdle. When the barrier is broken down, freedom is available; ultimately, we can express our opinions, ask questions, have discussions and take part in the community. We can participate more fully in our children’s learning and can understand different kinds of information.Knowledge gives everyone freedom. We can read and study what we want, when we want. It is more difficult in the U.S. because the cost of higher education is expensive. Therefore, if we make the effort, we can go to school and then better jobs are available to us. We gain independence through education and the freedom to choose and change jobs. Wherever I am, in this country or in another, if someone bothers me, I have the freedom to decide how to react, to change my attitude and to choose how I feel about the situation. These choices mean freedom to me. In conclusion, I am the one to decide if I am free or not; it is a state of mind as well as a state of being. Freedom is the ability to take control of my life; to marry the man I love, to have a family, to become accredited and licensed to practice my profession in this country, and to be happy.Estela Lopez lives legally in the U.S. with her resident husband and two young children. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, she has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for almost four years.
I am free, knowing I have the right to speak, to state my opinions without fear of reprisals or retribution.I am free to choose my religion and to practice it without concerns, or I can choose to not practice a religion, again without concern.I am free to go and travel. I can go where I want, when I want; my travel is unlimited.I am free to choose where and how I live and in any part of the country. I am not forced to live in any particular area or city.I am free to pursue my dreams and ambitions. No one tells me or forces me into a field or career not of my choosing.I am free of a president, leader, ruler, warlord, general or religious cleric who tells me what to do and who controls my life. I have no one telling me what to say, read or listen to. I have no one telling me how I should think, believe or behave.I am free to remember and honor those who made sacrifices so I have and enjoy these freedoms.I am free to live and enjoy my life. This is what freedom has given me and this is what freedom means to me.Dan Glidden is a Vietnam veteran and an Aspen police officer.
“Hi. You have reached the Law Office of Lauren R. Maytin. I am not available to take your call but if you leave a brief message I will get back to you as soon as possible.”(Beep)”O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed his grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!”Hey Lauren. This is Chris. I love cannabis. I love Colorado. Call me. Let’s talk about marijuana when you have a second. Spark Freedom.”After I received the above message on my phone, my smile was bigger than I had felt in a while and I was jumping from my chair to replay the message for my husband, who was in my office at that moment. How funny. You gotta love freedom!Freedom is now. For patients who qualify for the medicinal use of marijuana, freedom is now. For the entrepreneurs and master growers out there who supply these patients with life-saving medicine, freedom is now. For the edible bakers and the many infused manufacturers out there that help ease the patients’ symptoms and conditions, freedom is now. Freedom is available. For those who are non-medical marijuana patients and are the responsible recreational adult users, freedom is available if you pursue it! Freedom from arrest for responsible use is achievable, if you pursue it. Demand it.The pursuit of freedom has always been a favored American pastime. There are numerous decriminalization bills pending, California is attempting to legalize marijuana in its entirety and many other states are still trying to assert the freedom for their citizens to use medical marijuana. Marijuana – a medicine that helps ease and or cure many medical conditions! This freedom is upon us and is achievable. This freedom is about individual choice, responsible choice, and the way we choose to live our lives.Let freedom ring. Choose freedom NOW!Lauren R. Maytin is an Aspen attorney who provides counsel to some area medical marijuana dispensaries and is active in efforts to legalize marijuana. She is on the board of directors of the Colorado branch of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and is a member of the national group’s Legal Committee.
When I think of freedom, I am reminded of the Declaration of Independence’s most famous passage: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and what this means to me.It should be obvious that all are created equal and we as human beings, not as just citizens of this great country, have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; however, if in our own actions of free will we do not practice the responsibility of respecting the very same idea, then is it our right? These truths now seem to be more privileges than unalienable rights. If we disregard certain moral standards in our daily lives, then it will ultimately lead to the demise of not only our own happiness, liberty, and life, but that of others.You see, I am a paraplegic who has been confined to the use of a wheelchair. Despite the restrictions of my body, I am able to recognize my mind has the ability to free myself from the oppression and hatred of others. I wake each day making a conscious decision to respect all, regardless of their race, beliefs or abilities, and in doing so I am rewarded with happiness.If we all practiced making this conscious decision each day, then would we not be free to enjoy our privilege of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?Sam Ferguson is a self-employed accountant and an accomplished monoskier who has competed in multiple Winter X Games.
Our freedoms were not free. Throughout the history of this country, men and women have shed blood for our freedoms. Our founding fathers envisioned a utopian society where every vote mattered, people mattered. A man was free to live his life any way he saw fit, as long as it did not harm others. True freedom, live and let live.Through the years we’ve struggled to maintain our freedoms and helped others to gain theirs. During these times our country continued to grow; as it grew, we grew distant from our elected representatives. What began as our voting for people to represent our values and wishes has now become an illusion of representation. African-Americans gained freedom and the freedom to vote after the Civil War. Women gained the freedom to vote through demonstrations. The same for civil rights and getting the United States out of Vietnam – all through demonstration and civil disobedience. Not because our elected officials voted to represent their constituents’ wants.Today our representatives seem to only represent the desires of special interest groups and lobbyists, as well as those who do big business in their states and get them votes. Why do you think big oil gets the big tax breaks to develop new energy technologies, yet they can’t even prevent an oil spill or stop it?Because we the people let it happen. We have become complacent! We wait in line for the new iPhone but won’t stand in line to vote? Free speech – we get corralled out of sight in a “free speech zone” at the Democratic National Convention. People in many states aren’t free to go to parks, which are closed due to lack of funds. This because Wall Street was free to loan money it didn’t have and their house of cards collapsed, bringing the world to its knees financially. All this because we gave up freedoms fought for, took our lifestyle for granted. Now look where we are. Maybe if we as a country took care of each other, stood up for our rights, we could relive the dream that every vote counts, that what we the people want matters.Mark vandeLeuv is a Pitkin County Jail inmate being held on charges of criminal mischief, vehicular eluding and aggravated driving, among others.