THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE;
PROTECTING AND ACKNOWLEDGING EVERYONE’S UNALIENABLE RIGHTS
Every July 4th “We” as Americans, regardless of our gender, shade of skin, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or length of time since we or our ancestors came to these shores, gather together with friends and family to gorge ourselves on copious amounts of hamburgers, hot dogs, corn and apple pie. It is the American way to celebrate to excess, often times without actually considering or thinking about what it is that we are celebrating. In the case of July 4th, we are marking the day that the Founding Fathers issued the Declaration of Independence telling the world that the time had come to sever the bonds with England.
The Declaration of Independence is actually a legal brief issued to the world setting forth the arguments and rationale as to why it had become necessary for the 13 colonies to break away from the mother country and take their place on the globe as the United States of America. The document was issued 284 years after Columbus landed on what he thought was India. Of course, he actually landed in the Bahamas where he found 250,000 peaceful welcoming people known as the Arawaks. It was also 157 years after the first slave ship from Africa arrived in the New World. From my perspective, which is similar to many of European descent, the Declaration was issued approximately 144 years before my ancestors arrived in New York looking for freedom, safety and economic opportunity.
Every year on July 4th I read the Declaration of Independence. It is a remarkable document as never before in human history had a group of people issued a piece of paper making their case for independence in quite this way. It ushered in this grand experiment in human self-goverance which haltingly began with the Articles of Confederation. However, the loose affiliation of 13 colonies provided for in the Articles did not create bonds that were strong enough to hold the union together. Eventually, therefore, the Articles were thrown in the trash in favor of the Constitution.
What I was most struck with this year as I read the Declaration is the juxtaposition of the broad principles of freedom imbedded in that document as compared with the fear and hate mongering taking place across society today. The Founding Fathers were aggrieved by how England was treating “us”. Before setting forth their specific grievances, they wrote, “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”. In other words, each and every human, by the very fact of being born human, has certain fundamental rights that no one may take away. However, we know that in practice, since the very first members of our species walked on Earth 200,000 years ago, some humans by the circumstances and realities of their birth are born more equal than others. Indeed, by the time the Declaration was issued there had been horrible losses of life and land by the indigenous peoples of North America, and enslaved Africans were being horribly exploited as the free labor needed to build America’s agrarian economy. The Founding Fathers, all white male property owners, also did not view women to be on the same footing as men.
Over time, women eventually attained the right to vote and hold land, but profound residual sexism still exists and is ongoing. Perhaps most strikingly now, with the Supreme Court packed with jurists of a particular philosophy, a woman’s right of choice is again under attack. I cannot imagine that if women had been included as members of the “Founding Fathers” that there would be any consideration given as to whether government is permitted to intrude into this most private matter between a woman and her own body. Certainly, such a choice must be included as an unalienable right.
There is also the current debate that is raging over whether it is appropriate to teach American history in schools. Not the abridged version that we were all taught which included the euphemism “Manifest Destiny” which white-washed the killing of indigenous peoples and pushing them off their ancestral lands associated with the inexorable westward push of the Europeans across the North American Continent, and which did not include the full scope, breadth and ongoing impact of the enslavement of Africans. For example, did you know that when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 it pertained only to slaves being kept as property in states south of the Mason-Dixon line, or that slavery in New York lasted 200 years from 1626 to 1827 and that there was a very active slave market in Yonkers, New York.
It is critical to our future as a nation, as truly the “United” States of America, that we openly, honestly and frankly explore and discuss the past, and the ongoing inequities from past and current systemic racism. Despite what certain political parties and “news media outlets” would have you believe, these discussions are not intended to point fingers of blame, vilify white people, or portend the end of society as we know it. Instead, they are intended to explore the important question of how we got to where we are today, and what we can do as a nation to truly make certain that we are respecting the fundamental unalienable rights of all the people, and that America truly fulfills the hope and promise of what it professes to be, a land of brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
Central to anyone’s “Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness” in America is the right to vote. Voting should be as easy as breathing. With the technologies that are available today, people should be able to vote from their homes. Only by expanding the right to vote can we become a true participatory democracy, and achieve election results that truly reflect the will of a majority of the people. However, because someone lost the presidency in 2020, and that person cannot handle that truth, that person and his minions are pushing the unfounded story that the election was somehow stolen. Not a single shred of evidence of systemic voter fraud has been offered in more than 60 Federal and State court cases seeking to overturn the election. Indeed, defamation actions against the former President’s attorneys and the pillow guy are being defended with an argument that no one in their right mind would actually believe that any large-scale voter fraud took place. Yet, despite these baseless claims, certain states are passing laws intended to restrict the right to vote. These laws, which appear to be neutral on their face, will certainly disproportionately impact historically underrepresented members of our society. That is a direct slap in the face to our sacred unalienable rights. I always thought that if you lost an election, baseball game, or anything else, you didn’t change the rules of the game, you just tried harder the next time. Remember the age old adage, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Changing election laws is not trying again, it’s stealing the rights of fellow citizens.
Finally, there are States that are passing laws intended to deny transgender medical treatment to young people and others. What we have learned over time is that gender, sexual orientation, etc., in fact is not binary, it is a fluid spectrum. With more than seven billion people on the planet, there are all kinds of people that make up the tapestry of humanity. Not better people, not worse people, just people. Fellow humans living their lives according to their truths just as we, hopefully, are living our lives according to our truths. LGBTQIA+ humans have the same unalienable Rights as everyone else. They, like all people, are entitled to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. People living to their truths may make others uncomfortable at times, but the issue is not with those who are living to their truths, it is with those who are uncomfortable. While the Founding Fathers may not have been able to conceive the myriad ways that society and its people would grow and evolve over the centuries, the fundamental precepts remain the same. Some of the changes make me uncomfortable, but I realize that the work needed to be done is with me, and not with “them”.
So, enjoy your hot dogs and hamburgers, your apple pie and corn, and time spent with friends and family. Just remember what it is we are truly celebrating, why we declared our independence, and the beautiful dream that is America. Let’s just make sure that “We the People” all get to freely, fairly and equitably share in that dream. One World/One Love. Peace.