It is the 4th of July.
I want to remember Independence Day for the ideals of the United States, which it has almost never lived up to. As Langston Hughes titled his famous poem:
“Let America Be America Again.”
This year, right-wing conspiracy-theory extremist and snake-oil salesman Alex Jones, claiming that Democrats plan to launch a second civil war on Independence Day, emerges as a humorous and bizarre item in an un-ending onslaught of real horrors that are beyond satire’s wildest fantasies:
- a government’s crimes against humanity—including kidnapping immigrant children
- destruction of environmental protections
- climate change denial
- attacks on civil rights
- attacks on the press
- damaging U.S. alliances and strengthening U.S. enemies
- possible (probably) collusion with Russia to influence the last election, and
- ongoing personal enrichment on the backs of the citizens
It is difficult to see reason to celebrate the 4th of July, this year, with all of this.
However, I do want to celebrate that enough people oppose the actions of the current government to significantly #resist, and, in so doing, to potentially put the U.S. back on track toward finally achieving the ideals that promise what America could be (as much as humanly possible to achieve any ideal).
And in so doing, it is important to remember what Hughes, in that poem, points out:
(It never was America to me.)
From The United States Declaration of Independence
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all People are created equal, that they are endowed by Creation with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among People, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
[Edited to reflect contemporary standards of inclusion, layout changed to parse sections more easily.]
This last proposition —instituting a new Government to replace a failed or corrupt one—is incorporated into the Constitution in two forms:
- a process for amending the Constitution (for long-term restructuring and corrections of course) and
- free elections (for on-going short- and medium-term restructuring and corrections of course).
Thus, the Founders provided a radically progressive process for evolutionary change and for bloodless revolutions—a process of both incremental and revolutionary changes is built in to the government of the United States of America. The Founders prepared for new understandings that would emerge as humanity progressed in its humanistic development and could then (re)shape the very foundation of the government.
In fact, many of the protections of the Bill of Rights specifically protect the necessary capabilities of citizens to dissent against and replace their government:
— Freedom of the Press, of Speech, of Assembly, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (1st Amendment)
— Freedom from unreasonable government intrusion, searches and seizures, without probable cause supported by oath and affirmation (4th Amendment)
— Due process protections (5th Amendment)
— Fair trial rights (6th Amendment)
— Protections against excessive bail and fines, and against cruel and unusual punishment (8th Amendment)
These rights and protections allow citizens to dissent and act in their own interests without fear of government punishments (in theory).
The rights provided in later amendments both extend the Constitution toward its ideals and provide further protections against tyranny, notably:
the 13th, “Abolition of Slavery”;
the 14th, “Civil Rights,” which provides equal protection under the law;
the 15th, “Black Suffrage”;
the 19th, “Women’s Suffrage”;
the 22nd, “Term Limits for the Presidency”; and
the 24th, “Abolition of Poll Taxes.”
We, as a country, have expanded our understanding of the ideal proposition that “all men are created equal,” from its limited meaning in the Founders’ understanding of land-owning men, to “all people are created equal,” in the broadest possible sense. This change has come from significant struggle, strife, and even civil war.
It has been over 500 years since Europeans arrived here as Colonizers, establishing slavery in the Americas. We succeeded in abolishing slavery less than 200 years ago, but took another 100 years to codify civil rights. And we haven’t yet truly institutionalized racial equality—Black Lives Matters reminds us of the urgency of to do so.
It has not yet been 100 years since women could legally vote, after decades of struggle and protest, and thanks to the Suffrage Movement. In that time, women have increased their standing in society. And we have not yet truly institutionalize gender equality—the #MeToo Movement reminds us of the urgency to do so.
It has not yet been 50 years since The Stonewall Riots brought attention to the LGBQT+ community’s oppression. Same-sex couples have only been given the legal “right” to marry in all of the U.S. for 3 years. And we have yet to begin to institutionalize sexual preference and gender identity equality—ongoing Pride and LGBQT+ movements remind us of the urgency to do so.
We must continue to progress. We must #resist the pressures to regress.
There are so many more issues I could point to where equality does not exist—an obvious example is immigration, which has become especially important in light of the ongoing crimes against humanity committed by ICE against immigrants in the U.S.
And we should consider other ideals, in addition to equality, to add to that list of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness:
In order to assure that everyone has access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in equal share, we must seek social and legal justice—equal protection under the law and in society, for all. The injustice of inequality deprives humanity of life, liberty, and happiness.
In order to preserve and protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone in the world, we must seek peace. War deprives humanity of life, liberty, and happiness.
In order to preserve and protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone now and in the future, we must seek environmental and economic sustainability in all that we do. Environmental destruction and economic inequality deprive humanity of life, liberty, and happiness.
If life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness embody our unalienable rights, I would argue that justice, peace, and sustainability embody our inescapable duties. These duties assure and preserve and protect the rights of all people to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Whit these thoughts in mind, this year, I ask that you remember what is at the heart of Independence Day. Act on your freedoms. Participate in this great experiment.
Protest, speak up, and vote to abolish the destructive government now in Washington, D.C.
However, do not just vote against that government.
Vote for something.
Vote to form a new government that “laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form… [it] shall seem most likely to effect [all citizens’s] Safety and Happiness.”
Vote for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for citizens and a government that promotes justice, peace, and sustainability as integral to securing those rights for all.
Exercise our democracy, and move it toward its own ideals.
And please don’t tell me that winning is all and we must vote AGAINST to win.
The ideology quoted above is all.
And we must vote FOR a government that will move us ever toward those ideal rights of Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness, while following the duties of finding ideal justice, peace, and sustainability—or we fail both The United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
I close this with my own re-writing of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (19 November 1863)—rewritten for 2018…
 Two-centuries two-score and two years ago, our Founders brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the ideal proposition that all people are created equal. In the span of generations branching from that founding, we have struggled greatly in a desire to fully achieve the promise of those Grand Ideals. The stream of history has worked to bring closer the fullest realization possible of those Grand Ideals to our flawed and human governments.
 Now we are faced with a terrible travesty, a government attempting to overthrow the essential protections of these ideals, forwarding values opposed to and attempting to dam up this stream of history. Moments such as these have tested, and this one tests again, whether our nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can endure. Can it still progress toward a realization of Life, Liberty, Equal Protection under the Law, and the pursuit of Happiness—using Justice, in Peace, and pursuing Sustainability? Many have died on battle-fields of war to preserve and protect these Grand Ideals. Many have died from the historical failure to live up to these Grand Ideals, deprived of their Life, their Liberty, and of any hope to pursue their Happiness. We remember them all now, and dedicate this country to their memory both prideful and sorrowful. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should consecrate their memory thus.
 But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this country. The brave people, living and dead, who struggled, who suffered, who cried out to us, who cried out for us, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what is written here, but it must never forget those who have come before in this great battle for true Liberty for All. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who died—protecting, and deprived of protection; preserving, and deprived of preservation—advanced. We must join in the democratic battle now raging around us and fight FOR the ideals of this country, as this country was Founded so that Understanding could grow, and as it has blossomed in that growth, to where it gives fruit in a more ideal government. We must work toward making those ideals a reality for ALL, during our time remaining us on this earth. It is for us, the living and free, to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from the honored dead—of the years leading to now, of recent months, of yesterday, of today—that from those who have been denied Life or Liberty or Happiness and from those who have protected the Life and Liberty and Happiness of others—we take increased devotion to that Cause of Liberty of which they were denied or for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that all of the dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, led by its citizens, shall have a new birth of freedom for all—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Written: 4 July, 2018; edited for clarity 7 July, 2018
Categories: activism, Anti-war, essay, Liberal views, Politics, Politics and religion, Writing