Writing about freedom and independence when you have neither is an interesting exercise. Yet, the nation celebrates its 235th birthday and the occasion should be a moment to reflect on our inalienable rights and where we are as a people in achieving the vision articulated in 1776.
Baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet's aside, 235 years after its founding, how well is this experiment in republican democracy working? (No, don't freak, I am not saying the Republicans founded the nation or they bear any resemblance to the founding fathers...ok maybe some emerged from John Calhoun’s loins, but that is grist for another mill.) We have a representative form of government designed to make the will of the people the law of the land. Really?
According to Thomas Jefferson, our creator, (note no reference to God with a capital "G") endowed us with certain rights. We are given the right to life. (That cheering you hear is from regressives saying we finally got him...he is now in favor of a right to life). For some Americans, life is getting longer, but for others, particularly people of color, the working poor and those at the bottom of the economic ladder, their lives are stagnant and any gains incidental. It turns out for many so-called "patriots", you have a right to be born but afterwards you are on your own. In almost any metric of childhood nurturing, the United States lags close to last among the industrialized nations of the world. From infant mortality to low birth-weight babies, to pre-natal care and nutrition, we are not exactly leading the pack. If by some unfortunate quirk of fate, you live in Texas, most of the South, or any state controlled by regressives, your right to a life of potential and fullness is in jeopardy. For the second half of the 20th century, you had a chance to live a life with better economic potential than your parents and the belief your children's quality of life could exceed your own. Progress was on the march and the middle class thriving. Today, after 70 plus years of class warfare, what would most Americans say about their progress pursuing life?
Perhaps none of the rights listed by Jefferson is more under threat than our right to liberty. Since World War II, there has been a war against liberty...a war conducted by the moneyed interests, the powerful and the corporatists against everyone else. Whether it was the McCarthy witch-hunts and loyalty oaths, blacklists and faux patriotism, interning American citizens in concentration camps, or an FBI and CIA running amok among average citizens, your liberty was curtailed. The government ran COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program, aimed at our own people. In San Francisco, the FBI produced a coloring book, which attacked the police, and then passed it off as originating with the Black Panthers to crush a children's breakfast program the Panthers were running for poor people in the Fillmore. The CIA infiltrated peace groups and instigated violence. Even though the Church Commission exposed the out of control nature of the nation's law enforcement and intelligence services, no one could have envisioned how much worse things would get after September 11, 2001. With the passage of the Patriot Act, illegal electronic data mining, wiretaps on email, cell phones and internet activity, national security letters, and expanded FBI powers to come into your home, bug your computer, subpoena your library records all without your knowledge, the 4th amendment has ceased to exist. The first amendment is under siege, the 5th amendment has become window dressing and no nation except for China has more of its citizens behind bars. Cell phones are now designed to track your every move and insurance companies want to bug your car. Along with On-Star like systems, there is nowhere in the nation you can travel in privacy. There is more and more pressure to create a national ID card and laws in Georgia, Arizona and Alabama will require all residents to carry "papers" to prove their citizenship. Can you imagine Jefferson's take on all of this?
Your creator endowed you with the right to pursue happiness. Can we arrive at a definition of what it means to be happy these days? In 235 years, what is the American definition of achieving happiness? In your pursuit of a right given to you by your creator, and so precious it cannot be taken away from you according to Jefferson, do you have the right or can you have the expectation of a roof over your head, food on your table and clothes on your back? (No, sorry that's socialism) In pursuing happiness, should you be able to gather together with fellow workers to petition for a safe workplace, just salary and equal rights for all workers? (The answer is no in Wisconsin and other states where regressives want to end the right to collective bargaining) Can you pursue happiness if constantly worried about an illness, which could bankrupt and destroy your family's economic health? Is a good education a piece of the happiness puzzle? As schools for the middle class and poor fail, (they don't fail in Saratoga, Cupertino, Palo Alto, Ross or Moraga), as college gets more and more expensive, as community colleges turn students away, what are working Americans supposed to do? The corporate media has spent billions over the last 60 years to convince us happiness is best pursued consuming and buying. (2/3 of our economy depends on you spending money you don't have) We will be happy if we have the latest flat screen TV, Smartphone or iPad. We will experience ecstasy if we wear the latest fashions and keep hot pockets in the freezer.
I am a flawed and sinful man. I fell for many of the siren songs of consumerism, egotism and selfishness, which are sold to us daily. I am a cautionary tale to be avoided at all costs. I am not unique, just slower on the uptake than most. However, when studies about happiness and liberty and quality of life are conducted by reputable firms, the United States is never first. It's not even in the top ten. Why? I was once asked by Sean Hannity if America is the greatest country in the world. I responded "for whom?" This comment got me a mention in his first book as an example of a liberal who hates his nation. It really is true; patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. (I wish I could remember who coined that) Real patriotism means you love your country enough to fight for its best notions.
So, on this fourth of July I want to celebrate a nation which enables all its citizens to have a life...a long life, with potential and possibilities...which inspires and enriches...is free of fear and whose only limits are self imposed. 235 years later, I want to live in a country whose citizens won't trade personal liberty for the illusion of security. Liberty should be the third rail of politics, not social security. We should be safe in our person and papers. A politician who won't defend our personal liberty, who is easily stampeded by peer pressure and media hysteria, should hold no office. It's time to stop being afraid of whatever current boogey man the government and media thrust upon us. Nothing can harm you more than waking up one day wondering what happened to the liberties Jefferson envisioned and the Constitution enshrined. Finally, I want to celebrate a nation which defines a happy life as one free from the fear of homelessness, hunger, persecution and materialism and instead encourages pursuing loving relationships, a rising tide lifting all boats, an admission it is in loving and caring for others we receive love and care for ourselves. I want to live in a nation where my children can seek their dreams and achieve more than I ever thought was possible.
As you grill the hot dogs and burgers, smoke the ribs, eat peach cobbler or chocolate cake, I want you to take a moment to remember what Jefferson wrote, what Lincoln fought to preserve, what Roosevelt envisioned in his New Deal and what Obama's election represented and please find a way to fight for it, agitate about it and demand its promise be fulfilled for all Americans...one nation with liberty and justice for all.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA......