October 27, 2019

I Do Declare

Whether we are immigrants seeking a better life, or American-born seeking equality in how the world sees us, how we see ourselves, and with whom we are in love, the words “all men are created equal” must include _all_ of us.

by Susan E. Stutz

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https://classroom.monticello.org

There are many tragedies and injustices which occurred in the course of creating the democratic experiment known as America. Millions of men, women, and children who inhabited this continent for 10,000+ years were forcibly removed, slaughtered, or enslaved by the colonists who came to claim this land as their own. Women had no voice whatsoever except one of obedience and subservience. Hundreds of thousands of Africans who were kidnapped from their homeland and brought to America in disease-ridden cargo holds were not considered complete human beings. America was founded in a time of all-consuming racism and hegemonic masculinity. Unless you were a white, land-owning male, you did not count; at least not in any way that mattered or possessed any authority.

Despite these obvious and painful failings, the men who came together to draft and enact our founding documents would do so with little if any understanding of how relevant the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence would continue to be almost 250 years after their creation. Even the most forward-thinking among them could never have predicted that the line “all men are created equal” would come to include women and people of color, even if it could not tear down the oppressive institutions that bind them still.

As documents go, the Declaration of Independence is not much to look at and is almost impossible to read. Housed in a glass case in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives, the Declaration lies in State below the approving eyes of the Founding Fathers. It is old and it is faded, but when you consider the gravity of the moment in which it was written, it comes alive, its brilliance is almost blinding.

There are few words more precious to our democracy than those in our founding documents. There are few words more relevant to current events than those found in our Declaration of Independence.

“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.”

“That 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.”

We resist because these words echo across time and beckon us forward. Although in today’s world, we face obstacles and possibilities that the founders could never have imagined, the call to arms is one that must be heeded. We must rise to save ourselves because there is no one better suited for the fight.

We resist because the Declaration of Independence continues to have meaning. Whether we are immigrants seeking a better life, or American-born seeking equality in how the world sees us, how we see ourselves, and with whom we are in love, the words “all men are created equal” must include all of us.

We resist because our government has become destructive. Killing itself from the inside out, it heaps abuses and usurpation upon the people that cannot be permitted to stand. Those we have entrusted to keep the heart of America beating, have opted to watch it die instead. The Department of Education is led by someone who sees little value in America’s public education system. The Environmental Protection Agency is presided over by individuals who, despite overwhelming evidence, reject the truth of global warming. The Department of Justice is lead by those who are beholden to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue instead of law and order. And, our courts are being flooded with men and women who, rejected by the American Bar Association, are woefully undeserving of life-time appointments as our country’s final arbiters.

The importance of our Constitution’s First Amendment is not just that it grants us a voice. Rather, its importance lies in the right for that voice to be negative and our right to answer the Declaration’s call across time. We resist because the most honorable form of patriotism is a fist pumping to the cadence of dissent.

Our founding documents tell us that we have a duty to lift our voice and declare that our leaders are ill-equipped to lead, that the law reaches too far into our homes, and that government may not delve too deep into our persons.

If not us, then who? If not now, then when? We have the power to save ourselves. To save the country that, for all of its failings, was created on the premise of freedom from an over-reaching leader. We have a duty to stand and be counted. A duty to leave this world a little better than we found it. A duty to create the world we want future generations of ourselves to grow up in.

Our country’s cry of independence more than 200 years ago, will accept no less of us.

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