Talking Points

Patrick Henry in China

The quest for liberty is universal

"Give me liberty or give me death." Protesters in cities throughout China were actually chanting Patrick Henry's revolutionary war cry from 1775 this week, as tens of thousands poured into the streets in defiance of the authoritarian regime in Beijing. The demonstrators, mostly young, chanted "We don't want emperors!" and held up blank pieces of paper to symbolize their inability to speak freely. Thus far, President Xi Jinping has not ordered a violent crackdown, but police cleared streets and photographed protesters' faces. Those images will be fed into China's Orwellian face-recognition database, which tracks every citizen's cellphone and monitors everything from their internet activity to jaywalking. It takes unimaginable bravery — and the pent-up anger created by suffocating repression — for people to defy authority in a society where "bad" citizens can be dragged away and swallowed by the monstrous maw of the state. 

Millions of Iranian women and men are summoning equally inspiring courage to defy their theocratic rulers' dress and moral codes. Protesters are chanting "Death to Khamenei" in 220 Iranian cities, with hundreds sacrificing their lives in bloody battles with police. Iranians, a female university professor in Tehran wrote under a pseudonym, are demanding "the separation of religion from state. This revolution is about freedom of choice." The passionate uprisings in Iran and China, as well as Ukrainians' fierce resistance against Russia's genocidal invasion, should remind us of the fragility and preciousness of America's freedoms. Our founding ideals, tarnished and dented as they might be, still serve as lodestars to oppressed peoples around the globe. In recent years, the 45th president and those who welcomed or excused his assault on democracy showed us that we cannot take self-rule and fundamental rights for granted. Strongmen and demagogues are always waiting in the wings. The struggle for freedom never ends.

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.