Freedom is a pretty strange thing

Freedom is a pretty strange thing. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart, and no one can take it away. Then, as an individual, you can be more powerful than a whole country. -Ai Weiwei

Right now, Liberty in North Korea is raising funds to rescue 200 North Korean refugees. That might seem like small potatoes against the daunting power of the North Korean state. But I’m gonna go with Ai: freedom is a pretty strange thing.

Last night, at a fundraiser, I spoke for a long time with Joseph Kim. He’s a sweet kid. We talked about North Korea, and we talked about Max Weber and sandwiches and cheap ways to travel. His English is better than it was the first time I met him, and he’s studying hard in school.

He’s just one individual with freedom in his heart. And it makes him powerful. It’s voices like Joseph Kim and Ai Weiwei that the dictators of this world fear most: people who speak the plain truth.

And it’s not that they speak without fear. In Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, the documentary where Ai spoke about freedom, he admits that he’s afraid — maybe more afraid than most other people, which is why he realizes that he must speak now. He sees the danger of not speaking.

LiNK is working hard to bring 200 more Josephs to freedom. They won’t all do TED talks. Many may choose not to be activists at all — but choice is exactly the point. Given the resources and opportunities of freedom, North Korean defectors might open a kimbap stand together on the outskirts of Seoul, like the mother of a defector friend of mine and a few other defectors. Or they might get degrees in political science at one of Seoul’s top universities, like someone else I know.

But their acts of freedom, large and small, have an impact. They change the way the world sees North Korea and North Koreans. And many North Korean defectors remain in contact with their families back home, sending them money, sending them information — and planting the experience of freedom in their hearts.

If this matters to you, now is an especially good time to give because your funds will be matched. Even small donations make a difference — most of LiNK’s 265 rescues to date have been funded through the efforts of college students who’ve done things like bake sales. Sometimes it can make a difference just to talk to the people around you. Whatever you can do to give the experience of freedom to others, on this issue or somewhere else, please do it. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart, and no one can take it away.