Walsh’s Wonderings — ‘Indefendence’ Day
I freely admit I’m an optimist. A straight white middle-aged man in America, I enjoy the privilege those adjectives gave me at birth. I didn’t earn them; they came with the set. As a result, I have the opportunity to hope some good comes out of our country’s current struggles.
Saturday marks another July 4th and the attending celebrations marking our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Like most things about our origin story, our declaration of this independence was awkward at first. The Second Continental Congress officially declared the independence of the 13 colonies on July 2, 1776, a year after the start of the Revolutionary War. Most of Congress never signed it until August 2nd as a result of several squabbles over the wording.
For instance, nowhere in the final document does it mention a “declaration of independence.”
The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence contains some of the most significant language ever captured in writing: “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…” It would eventually require no fewer than three future amendments to our Constitution to fix the lie: the 13th abolished slavery, the 15th prohibited the denial of voting rights based on color, and 19th amendment gave women the right to vote.
But, you know, a decent first draft.
In short, America declared something before we really knew exactly what we were declaring but a year after it should have been declared. Afterward, we fought over the language we used to declare it, then approved it, but waited a month until we signed it into existence retroactively. So American.
Along the way, we changed the world forever. Our country continues to change to this day, just as it’s designed to under this document. “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed… whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of 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… it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
A clear-headed reading of this document reminds us the United States can be thought of as Skynet to some; the Dark Side (a Star Wars reference that’s never seemed so culturally disconnected). It “forces” us (couldn’t help it) to confront the results of hundreds of years under systemic racism through the eyes of those Americans who’ve suffered under it. Our Declaration of Independence obliges us to try to understand their frustration, their desire to radically change the institutions that have participated in their repression. To make their lives matter without fear of what we might lose in the process.
This Fourth of July brings the hope we’ll live up to the promises we made to ourselves all those years ago and declare our independence from the indefensible. That people like me who’ve enjoyed privileges granted through a genetic lottery will act to make those promises real. An Indefendence Day, if you will, where all Americans can truly celebrate the Pursuit of Happiness.