What is the cost of freedom?

Nishita Jha


The Avenue in the Rain is one of six works by the American impressionist painter Childe Hassam in the permanent art collection of the White House in Washington DC. It is also the image that feels most representative of where the US and the promise of democracy stand today, on the Fourth of July. As writer Diana Butler Bass writes, The Avenue in the Rain doesn’t rejoice in flag-waving. “The flag isn’t flying proud. It has been battered by a storm, it hangs soaked and limp…indeed, America is often stormy, rainy, blue. We see only the wavy reflection of democracy in the water pooling under our feet. Many days, the best we can do is huddle together under umbrellas to keep each other dry.”

There is much to dampen the mood: Americans affected by rising costs of inflation are likely to spend less money this Fourth of July compared to previous years. The disastrous Biden-Trump debate has made the project of American democracy seem bleaker than ever before. News channels in Russia and China are describing US Presidential hopefuls as comical and senile, while Israeli defence analyst Ron Ben-Yishiai claims parts of Israel are already celebrating a second Trump presidency. 

Writer, activist and linguist Abduweli Ayup was detained in a Chinese prison for attempting to keep Uyghur culture alive. Read his story here.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s struggle for independence has suffered a major setback as China moves to criminally punish “separatists”. China’s new judicial guidelines, which seek to prosecute activists even in absentia, will see “ringleaders” inciting secession or “Taiwan independence” activists punished with life imprisonment and in some cases, receive the death penalty. 

Finally, because we cannot speak of freedom without hope: the Taliban continues to keep Afghan women out of governance, schools and peace talks but it cannot keep Afghan women from achieving their dreams. The 2024 Olympics in Paris will see dancers competing for Olympic medals for the first time in history, and among them is 21-year-old Manizha Talash, Afghanistan’s first woman break dancer. Talash began her dance training in breaking as a young girl in Kabul, where she was the only woman in a crew of 56 dancers. She was accustomed to receiving physical threats and warnings from conservative members of Afghan society from the moment she became famous, but Talash realized it was time to flee once the Taliban came to power: “I didn’t leave Afghanistan because of the fear of death. It was because breaking is my life…I’m doing something for my girls there, I want to walk the talk.”

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Hot Take: If you couldn’t bear to watch the Biden-Trump debate but still want to know what went down, we recommend Ryan Broderick’s breakdown here. It’s shorter, more insightful and you’ll laugh without sobbing inwardly at the state of American politics. 

Double Take: This fourth of July is, of course, also crucial for people outside of America such as those living in the UK who will vote and decide whether this is the time for a Labour Party victory. We loved this old-school roving writer’s view of two elections in England and France, and the direction that both countries seem to be headed in. 

Takes the cake: When all else seems bleak, turn to the young for inspiration – nine-year-old British chess sensation Bodhana Sivanandan will become the youngest player to represent England in the 2024 Chess Olympiad. Her newest BFF? Only the greatest female chess player in history, Grand Master Judit Polgar. Sivanandan and Polgar met for a play date in Budapest recently, where the young prodigy received some special tips and tricks from the legend.