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.
Thomas Jefferson wrote a brilliant document. I mean it is rhetorically brilliant, full of powerful repetition, variation, and meter. And more importantly, this brilliant form embodies a message that is clear
To break free from an oppressive government and start anew, to know that life can be better and to fight to make it so, to be willing to risk everything to ensure that the rights of all citizens are protected--well, I feel grateful every day that our forefathers had such vision and strength. As I read through the Declaration of Independence, I cannot imagine a world without this document. These were not perfect people, and while their vision did not include blacks or women, it laid the foundation for the development of a nation and a constitution that would come to recognize that all people must be afforded these same unalienable rights. Have we accomplished this yet in the United States of America? Certainly not. In fact, since 9/11, we have seen the erosion of many basic rights in this country in the name of protecting our borders, but as Benjamin Franklin wrote, "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."
Today I am thankful for our founding fathers and mothers; I am thankful for the men and women who serve in the military; I am thankful for those who fight against tyranny of thought and action; I am thankful for the teachers who serve our nation by educating its youth; I am thankful to people who fight to ensure fundamental intellectual freedoms, including the freedom to dissent. Often in America we conflate democracy and capitalism, as if our form of government and our economic system are one and the same concept. But democracy isn't about the freedom to buy cheap towels at Walmart or to have 75 different scents to choose from at Yankee Candle. Democracy needs an active and educated citizenry. Literacy is on the decline in the U.S. (and throughout much of the world). I know this not only because I read dire statistics and articles about this fact on a regular basis, but because I have taught for many years and because I have worked as an adult literacy tutor. The less literate we are, the less capable we are of participating in our democratic system at the local, state, or national level. Education is not only about training for a job. Jobs come and go. These days, they seem to go more than they come. There is something more essential that education offers us. It is about becoming empowered to think and act for ourselves. It is about asking questions, arguing, recognizing injustice and speaking out against it. It is about the joy of learning and of being a strong individual as well as an active citizen. A strong democracy depends upon it.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence were smart and brave; the militiamen who fought one year earlier in the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 were smart and brave; the suffragists who fought to win women the right to vote were smart and brave; the civil rights leaders of the 1960's were smart and brave. We, too, need to be smart and brave. Jefferson knew it was not enough to believe that the rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness were inalienable; we must assert that they are, again and again, and we must actively ensure that these rights of our fellow citizens and ourselves are protected. If we think of democracy as a living thing and not a static concept, then it becomes easier to understand that, like a garden, democracy must be tended and nurtured. I, for one, hope that over time I can become a better gardener.
To my US friends, here's hoping you have a beautiful July Fourth. Oh, and speaking of capitalism, while I know the above photo that I took last night just before sunset looks suspiciously like a Chevy commercial, I couldn't resist it. As I said in yesterday's post, we're back on the island this week, and the mood here is decidedly laid back and celebratory. These folks were having a great time riding around the island. That light alternating with long shadows across the road and illuminating the tree trunks just called out for a photo.