“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” but what is self-evident? Is common sense all that common, and was it in 1776? That was when the Founding Fathers, rich, white slave owners who had the privilege of literacy and the leisure to travel to Philly to declare their autonomy from Great Britain, wrote the Declaration of Independence that Americans claim to heartily endorse. But like the Bible, how many have read it, digested it, and allowed it to be freely interpreted to include the “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness” of all residents of this North American union?
Writers are among the first to be suppressed, and the illusion of free speech that we enjoy on the Internet may prove to be a double-edged sword if things continue. “Cabaret” keeps running on a loop in the back of my mind, and the few of us who suggested the times resembled those of Germany in the ‘20s and ‘30s are not being laughed at quite so frequently anymore. Growing up in the ‘70s, perhaps I took for granted that civilization in the U.S. was moving in a steady, progressive direction. We had the end of the Vietnam War, peace signs on our jeans, Earth Day, John Denver, and “Wild Kingdom.” By the end, Nixon had resigned to be replaced in a few short years by the mannequin Reagan, and colored disco lights and electronic rhythms drowned out the flowers, and the sound of bees protecting their stash.
I had a friend who liked to point out that we no longer employed the use of axes and maces in battle. Small comfort indeed in the age where whole cities can be destroyed by even the most antique of Soviet hardware. Perhaps what we’re experiencing is brutal growing pains. Change is hard; I’m not a fan of it. For fifty years we’ve accepted legal abortion as a fact of life here in these United States. How many of us realized it had never been codified into federal law? Now we are scrambling to regain autonomy over our female bodies. I am no longer able to bear a child, but I have a five-year-old granddaughter who will be soon. What will her life be like under this new rise of Fascists that we thought Disney and Warner Brothers had lampooned in cartoons to the point of absurdity so many decades ago?
I suppose rights seemed OK for rich, white men back in 1776. Little did they know they’d be asked to share, first with their former slaves, then women, then our LGBTQ siblings. One by one, we who had always been here began to speak up. Declared ourselves full partners in this not-so perfect union. No wonder the ones who held so much of the control for so long are kicking and screaming, and shame on the others cheering on their lethal rage.
And although rich, educated, and men of leisure, these signers of that Declaration, written by Thomas Jefferson, an imperfect man but a seeker of knowledge and invention, were truly risking their lives by sending off such an inflammatory missive to King George. They were the progressives needed at the time to put these colonies on the path to self-governance. That debt is never fully paid. Each general pays a toll to move our country forward.
I never expected to spend my so-called Golden Years demonstrating for rights I thought had been locked down. Common sense is non-existent, and although I’m in New York State, where so many rights are taken for granted, there are still so many clinging to the Old World Order of denial, suppression, and dictatorship in religion’s clothing. I can’t imagine the agony in other states, and won’t be finding out firsthand anytime soon. Maybe the taxes are higher in New York, but we get the roads plowed and we have the best pizza. The Rebs keep mainly to the woods, and Republicans mouth off but so far have done no deep damage Democrats can’t clean well enough up.
I debated whether I’d go hear the Declaration of Independence read aloud tomorrow, which is July 4th. The Rosendale Theater has made a tradition of it for years but for one reason or another, I’ve always been elsewhere. This might be the year to hear it for myself. Take notes. Make a plan.