The other January 6 


January 10, 2023

When one thinks of January 6, one remembers the tragic and awful events of two years ago at our nation’s Capitol – anarchy and chaos and insurrection. Democracy bent that day but did not break. 

But there is another January 6 that plays a role in our country’s history – a day that contributes seminally and in an aspirational sense to the molding of our character as a nation. 

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivering his State of the Union address, called for a world founded upon four essential freedoms: 

The President’s four freedoms were as follows, in his own words: 

“The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. 

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. 

“The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world. 

“The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.” 

FDR’s speech had to do with asserting American foreign policy, at a time when passions were split between continuing our isolationist tendencies or getting more involved in stopping the tragic and ruthless brutality thundering across Europe. 

The Coalition on Human Needs, and many others in the human needs community, focus primarily on domestic policy – not exclusively, as what happens elsewhere affects us at home, as both the immigration crises around the world and the pandemic have so aptly shown. 

And yet: if we look closely at FDR’s four freedoms, we see there are domestic lessons to be learned as we head into what could be a very turbulent 2023, with Congress divided and partisanship flaying the country apart  . 


Freedom of speech. 

In Florida, and soon in Texas, “don’t say gay” legislation has threatened the well-being of LGBTQ youth. Laws and executive actions limiting the teaching of race and gender issues exist in many states. Libraries across the country are under pressure, often from religious right conservatives, to ban books that address certain topics. Even Disney World is under attack – Disney World! 

Freedom of worship. 

Here at home, incidents of anti-Semitism are up sharply, fueled by Trumpism and white Christian nationalists who say they fear being “replaced.” We saw anti-Muslim actions by the Trump administration, and increases in civil rights violations against Muslims since 2020.  

Freedom from want. 

Of course, this might be the most relevant of the four freedoms for human needs advocates – and it only likely will be more relevant as the year progresses. Millions are in poverty, yet Republicans plan to target anti-poverty programs for cuts – perhaps as a condition for raising or suspending the debt ceiling later this year, possibly in conjunction with reauthorizing farm legislation, possibly as part of the FY 2024 appropriations process – or possibly all three and more. 

Freedom from fear. 

Here FDR targeted the world’s increased militarization. That is certainly an issue today, and those of us in the human needs community know that if we wasted fewer dollars on programs/weapons that the Pentagon does not need and sometimes does not even want, we would have more money to invest in our families. How many additional teachers could we hire for the cost of a year’s funding for the F-35 joint strike fighter jet? 

(Not just a rhetorical question – according to the National Priorities Project, that funding would pay nearly 139,000 elementary school teachers for a year.) 

January 6 was indeed a memorable day for America. Just not in the way that many of us might remember. 

If you’d like to listen to FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech, go here. If you’d prefer to read a transcript of his remarks, go here.