A Silent Act Toward Liberation

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FREEDOM breathes quietly through this black-and-white image. You can sense it in the bending of the voter's waist; in his open cuffs, slightly blurred as if they had just been loosed; his hands unshackled to carry out his mind's intent. Even the hinge visible at the bottom edge of the frame reassures us that his vote will not sink into oblivion, but rather will be retrieved and counted.

Photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman's composition - the bold downward curve of the hat, reinforced by the thrust of inward-slanting arms - always draws our eye back to these sturdy hands, guiding a choice.

Just as the ideal of democracy is sometimes threatened by what seems to be the ``real'' of human apathy, greed, or the unrelenting pride of power, this focal point suggests that the act is not automatic, and not unopposed, but must be chosen deliberately and courageously. His left hand straddles the ballot, most likely guiding it in, but symbolically threatening to hold it back. Yet his right hand, representing his freedom to act, is actually in control, suggesting a motion that nothing can thwart. A glorious, soft diamond of light enlivens the space between his arm and body.

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The conviction expressed here feels victorious even before the votes are counted, as if this man (and by extension the viewer) will turn away from the ballot box freer just for having voted. Each ballot that slides into the slot represents an individual's participation in the mosaic of community, just as each ridge of the man's hat is essential to the overall texture of the photograph.

The beautiful irony is that this image elevates the importance of the individual in the exercise of democracy and yet transforms this particular individual into a symbol. Democracy, it asserts, is human agency at work. As enough people collectively agree, they can change the leaders and the precepts of their government rather than be subject to a rigid system that would take on a lifeless life of its own.

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