(I titled my blog “Tim’s Viewpoints & Visuals” because there are times that I just need to speak my mind, thus the “viewpoints” part. This is one of those times.)
On July 4, 1776, 242 years ago, the Continental Congress adopted this resolution penned by Thomas Jefferson which not only changed the history of the American British Colonies, but forever altered the history of our planet.
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
(The entire Declaration of Independence is actually quite lengthy as it goes on to detail the grievances and abuses of King George III.) I have left off that text, but here is a link to the entire document:
Independence Day is not really about fireworks, or barbecues, or picnics. Independence Day is about a simple concept. The concept that each and every one of us are created equal, and that we have the ultimate right to equal opportunities and equal treatment under the law. In 1776 this was a very powerful statement, just as it is today 242 years later.
Please take a few moments to go back and read the quoted text of the Declaration of Independence above. Then, please take some time to think about what those words truly mean and what is happening in our country today.
Thomas Jefferson’s words do not state that those of us who are white have more rights than those of us who are brown or black. Those words do not hint or infer that the wealthy are to be afforded more privileges than the poor. The words are clear and self-evident. Taken in the context of the latter 18th century, the meaning is crystal clear. All of us — men, women, children, whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, etc. — are all endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The exact meaning of liberty and happiness is very likely different today than in 1776, but it might be fair to say that security, education, living wages and decent health care could be among those rights in the 21st century.
Further, this declaration clearly lays out the purpose and the bounds of our government. It states that governments are created to secure these rights for all of us. It also clearly states that a government’s powers are derived from the consent of the governed. That is very clear. The document goes on to state that when such governments fail in their duties to secure our collective unalienable rights, that we, the people, have the right to throw off, or change that government.
I want you to consider what is happening in the United States of America today and whether or not what our government is doing is adhering to the concepts in the Declaration that form the root of our country’s founding principles.
132 years ago, a longtime friend and key ally, France, gave us the Statue of Liberty which now stands in the harbor between New York and New Jersey. Our French friends gave this to us to serve as a permanent reminder of the gift of liberty and freedom that our American Revolution helped to inspire around the world. There is an inscription on a plaque at the base of the statue. The words are as follows:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Have you thought about what these words say, and why they were put on the plaque at the base of the statue? Have you thought about what the statue really means and what it really represents?
The poem above on that plaque does not read that only wealthy whites are welcome in this country. This poem does not read that you’re not welcome here if you’re coming up from our southern borders. The poem does not say that you are not welcome here if you are Muslim. No, again the words are self-evident. In 1886, the United States was the shining beacon of hope, liberty, and opportunity for the world. Our French friends wanted us to have the statue to remind us every day of what the American dream truly represents to the entire world.
There is compassion in those words; there is empathy in those words. The poem represents the beacon in Lady Liberty’s right hand. Her torch lights the way for all those who are oppressed, for all those who seek opportunity, and for all those who simply seek a better, safer life to come to our shores. The poem illustrates the torch lighting the way toward liberty and happiness. That is the real American dream.
The tablet which Lady Liberty is holding in her left hand only has this inscription,
“JULY IV MDCCLXXVI”.
This is July 4, 1776, the date of the declaration of our independence from England. At Lady Liberty’s feet lies a broken chain which represents the bonds of poverty and despotism which have been broken by our own declaration and subsequent history of pursuing liberty for all.
These items, the Declaration of Independence and the Statue of Liberty, are the core of our country’s founding principles. The United States is forever tied to these principles. This is what makes the United States be the United States — that we truly believe Mr. Jefferson’s words, and that we aspire to make them happen for all of us.
Today we have a government that is recklessly abandoning these core principles. Not only are we turning our backs on desperate people who are simply seeking the very rights to which we all aspire; we are imprisoning them and separating them from their children. These people are being held in worse conditions than any prison in this country. This government openly derides those who need it the most. This government is imprisoning those who come to our shores seeking asylum from conditions which none of us can possibly imagine. People are coming here to seek safety for their loved ones, and this government imprisons them like stray dogs. This government no longer embraces a free and open press; it labels it as a hostile entity to be extinguished. This government has repeatedly attempted to take away our rights to affordable, quality health care. This government has repeatedly repelled attempts to make a decent living wage law for every American. This government openly employs high officials with long histories of membership and association in racial and sexual hate groups who seek to rip away the very liberties that our Constitution and other founding documents guarantee to us all.
On Independence Day today, it is time that each and every one of us think about what this country is supposed to be and what it is supposed to represent. It is time to go back and read Mr. Jefferson’s all-powerful words. It is time to read the poem on the Statue of Liberty, and to think about why She stands so tall in New York harbor. It is time to let go of hatred, bigotry, and racism. It is time to embrace the principles upon which the United States of America was founded. Each and every one of us has a duty and responsibility to remember what this country is about. And just as Thomas Jefferson wrote 242 years ago, if this government continues to fail in its solemn mission to protect our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it is time for us, the people, to throw off this government and start anew.