The Paradox of Fourth of July
Today is the Fourth of July, celebrated as Independence Day in the United States. Such a mixed bag. Celebrating the founding of a new nation declaring to the world that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…problematic right off the bat since women were not included in this declaration of equality and the first article of the U.S. Constitution eleven years later declared enslaved persons would count at 3/5 of a person in congressional representation. (Forget voting for almost 100 years.) It’s a rather inscrutable paradox that the brilliant author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was himself a slaveholder until the day he died.
Less than 100 years later, in the middle of a bloody civil war that would determine whether this nation would emain half slave and half free, President Abraham Lincoln echoed the notion that this new nation was dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and humbly shared his prayer that “this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.”
I grew up in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, memorized the Gettysburg address of 1863 as all my classmates did, and fervently believed that everyone would do everything possible to keep our democracy from perishing from the earth.
This freedom business is complicated. Protecting civic rights and providing citizens with equal opportunities is complicated.
Decades of grass-roots movements and campaigns to extend the rights and opportunities of citizenship to all the people who have built and grown this country – immigrants, women, blacks, indigenous people, LBGTQ, etc….
160 years later, our Congress is holding hearings investigating an attempted insurrection against that government fulminated by a rogue ex-president protesting a democratic election that removed him from power.
I wrote this post last week as I was teaching The Resilience Mindset for the Cape Cod Institute at the Nauset Regional High School, where the words of (assassinated) President John F. Kennedy proclaim the American dream on the walls of the school, “As they say on my own Cape Cod, a rising tide lifts all boats.” The school will begin construction this week to enclose the open campus with walls and gates in response to the recent spate of gun shootings in Uvalde, TX and so many schools elsewhere.
Celebrating Fourth of July is not just picnics and fireworks. It’s about being woke again and again to the dangers of our democracy and the freedoms we cherish slipping away from us. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade the week I wrote this blog also. What is wrong with us people?
Two very, very small bright spots of news of recent governmental action:
From Reasons to Be Cheerful, a wonderful investigative journalism website: Reparations are being paid to black families and their descendants in Evanston, IL who were red-lined from buying homes between 1919 and 1969 because of their race. Timely given Juneteenth, now a federal holiday to celebrate the (finally) emancipation of enslaved people in 1865. Humbling for me; I graduated from college in Evanston, IL in 1968, blithely oblivious to those discriminatory practices until Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated that spring and the city of Chicago erupted in riots, and I finally “woke” up and helped lead at teach-in about racism at the university’s chapel a few weeks later.)
And the Civic Center in the county where I live now has been flying the U.S. flag, the state of California flag, and the rainbow Pride flag the entire month of June. Some things are turning out right.