I write this Independence Day blog as we are finishing up on our celebrations for Juneteenth and Pride, which makes me contemplate:
What is freedom?
Who has been allowed freedom?
What does freedom look like to me and you?
But First A Quick History Break...
On July 2 of 1776, the Continental Congress of the colonies of America that would later form the original 13 states declared independence by vote from Great Britain. Great Britain was during that time under the rule of King George III (Yes, yes that one from Bridgerton) who was later presented with the Declaration of Independence signed on the 4th of July - thus marking that day as our official founding. The 4th of July or Independence Day has been celebrated as a national holiday in the United States since 1941. However, these celebrations similarly to Juneteenth had been celebrated for years prior to that date in 1941. In fact in 1870 Congress passed HR 2224 which established the 4th of July as a Federal unpaid holiday. Thus for many years we have celebrated the holiday with parades, picnics, barbecues, and fireworks marking the actions of those 56 delegates.
Now before you put that rib in your mouth, make the paper pennant banner or light that sparkler, remember that even in the founding and writing of our Declaration of Independence many were purposely excluded. One of the largest criticism of that instrument of freedom was that while these "Founding Fathers" were deeply entrenched in the work of freedom for themselves that many of them engaged in the horrors of the business of chattel slavery to make their fortunes. What's worse is mention of this deplorable institution was intentionally deleted to make the instrument's passage easier. This would put the question of slavery off generations and lead to the actions of the Civil War. Now we could go into a very long-standing and complicated debate on the founding and its repercussions on the landscape leading up to the Civil War. What IS important to note is simply that slaves were not the only group of individuals excluded from the fight for freedom, it also largely excluded First Nations people, indentured servants and women. Our "Founders" were, to sum it up, rich men who did not want to give their wealth to their (at the time) government without being given voice and didn't trust their own countrymen to share power to elect their own government officials.
But Why Is THAT OK?
The ancient history of our nation some would argue is largely lost, both by intention and neglect. We are not a homogeneous people. Our nation is large, with various topography, climates and weather. Though English is the common tongue, we have no official language. We do not all share one cultural background. In truth the melting pot ideals taught in many of our schools is a farce at best. We are a mixed salad with at times ingredients that don't go well with others. I blame the rancid dressing - or to more clearly say the concept that America is exceptional in everything we do and never needs to change to address our faults. So instead of trying to pick out the people we don't like perhaps we need to change how we operate.
What we do share and that immigrants/independence fights from other nations have looked to as inspiration for generations are the ideals this nation was founded on:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"
So let's break this down....
"These are truths" - things that are not false but are inherent to all men and women.
"All men are created equal" - In the USA we have struggled with this for centuries. From how we treated First Nation people, to slavery, to the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the Muslim ban, to how we continue to treat LGBTQ folks, our track record in this country has not been great. Nevertheless I believe that we can and will do better.
"endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" - These rights are those that all people - no matter where they are born, who they are born to, under whatever flag, following whatever creed and born into whatever color skin - should have on this planet.
"among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - So to be clear... there are more rights we are ALL entitled to but among them should be:
- Life - Which should include the ability to breath when we are arrested or know that a routine stop will not stop your life.
- Liberty - Which should include the ability that if you live, work and thrive in this country there is a permanent place for you.
- Pursuit of Happiness - Which should include the ability to marry who you love without the risk of losing your job, home or access to your children.
"The Founders" in my humble opinion dropped the ball half-way to the end zone. Still that doesn't mean that we shouldn't pick up and keep moving it forward. To quote one of my favorite Civil Rights Activists, Fannie Lou Hamer, "Nobody's free until everybody's free". So as you celebrate the 4th remember that the freedoms you have may not be the same freedoms your neighbor has, the woman who grilled your meal has, the man who works beside you have or the children your children play with have.
We can do better and I challenge you to do better. There is one thing I can agree our "Founders" got right: the structure of our government and the very documents we treasure were meant to be refined and improved upon by future generations. We are RIGHT NOW that future generation! I challenge you to write to your elected officials on the behalf of others, teach your children the truth, don't let people disparage others based on stereotypes - both in public and behind doors, march/rally with those seeking equal rights, donate money to equality causes, or if you don't have it to give, donate your time. We can all do something to ensure that every American can celebrate the freedoms promised at our founding.
But What About Those Questions?
In-regards to the questions I asked at the top of the blog. Those are questions that if you ask 1000 people you may very well get 1000 different answers. The questions, dear reader, are not questions that we can even attempt to answer in one blog, one day, one month or one year. Those are questions I challenge you to think about every day for as long as you have breath and beat.
As you may notice, as time goes by, the answers we have today could change for both you and I. The rights and freedoms I pick up as a torch to carry on and run forward, will not be the same that my daughter or her children or those children's children may carry. Just like "The Founders", I hope to leave a foundation in which future generations can build upon. It is my dream that one day there will not be people on this planet who need freedom from tyranny, oppression, hate and inequality. Yet I am not much of a dreamer; I am a realist. The work we have to do may not be finished in my lifetime but there is NO EXCUSE for us not to try. We all hope that the future is better and will have the answers we can't imagine today, but that does not mean we make mistakes we don't try to fix and leave all the work for the future to solve.
Now feel free to resume eating that rib, making that banner and lighting that sparkler. It is a celebration, after all.
Happy Independence Day!
The Freedom to Read
* I am sure you are wondering why I have quotes around "Founders or Founding Fathers". Simply put because I acknowledge that before the USA was a thing, the Americas ALREADY HAD great nations, empires, ideals and founders - that perhaps if we took more time to learn about, it would help us navigate the bigger questions we have today.