Today we celebrate our independence.
But our strength is in our dependence.
We depend on one another. We depend on our armed forces to keep us safe. We depend on family and friends for love, sanity and good times. We depend on employers and clients and customers for our paychecks and livelihood.
The loner is the great American archetype. Personal freedom, personal responsibility, personal choice seems to be our national mantra. It’s so often about me, myself and I. The consumerism that drives our capitalism is all about self.
But independence was only achieved by depending on one another. Freedom is not about selfish gain but what we can have and achieve together. Right now Iranians are flexing their democratic muscle by relying on one another. No man is an island.
I think the American way is helping one another, not selfishness. That’s how we have overcome each and every trial that has faced this country. United, willful cooperation is what has made us great. We have relied on each other and it has made all the difference. Even now as the economy crumbles we make it through by helping one another out, not circling the wagons and fending for ourselves.
Struggle is another American ideal. And we should remember that, because though today is our Independence Day, it was not a day of freedom for everyone. When it was first written, ‘that all men are created equal’ only applied to white men. Perhaps we should also remember other days when injustice ceased and freedom was granted in this country:
- Dec. 15, 1791: Ratification of the 1st Amendment and the freedom of speech, religion, etc. (Though religious freedom wasn’t necessarily guaranteed: New Hampshire became the last state to offer Jews full political equality in 1877. The Wikipedia article “History of Jews in the United States” is full of bizarre examples like that.)
- Dec. 18, 1865: Ratification of the 13th Amendment and an end to slavery.
- Aug. 18, 1920: Ratification of the 19th Amendment and voting rights for women.
- Jan. 2, 1945: Executive order enforcing the internment of Japanese Americans is rescinded.
- May 7, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring school segregation unconstitutional.
- July 2, 1964: Civil Rights Act is signed into law, outlawing segregation.
- Jan. 4, 1975: Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (Or pick your occasion for Native American freedom—I don’t know what act or movement would be best to note. Our history is full of slights, denials, forced citizenship and worse to the Native Americans.)
And there are many other examples throughout our history when our country extended freedom. I imagine there will be many more in the years to come (depending on your views, homosexuals or the unborn are examples of groups that might gain freedom in the future). It says something great about our country that a person who would not have been granted freedom in 1776 is our president today.
I say all this not to crap all over patriotism or this country for which we ought to be thankful. If anything, it makes me exceedingly proud.
I say this because this union was not perfect in 1776, and it’s not perfect today. We have made mistakes and we will continue to make mistakes. But that’s OK. We can change. It is our freedom that enables us to make changes and correct those injustices and make that more perfect union. Whitewashing our history and overlooking mistakes leads to blind nationalism that can be dangerous. It’s important to acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them and move forward. American history is full of that forward progress.
America’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. And we get there together.
Perhaps it’s worth looking to the closing words of the Declaration of Independence:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
Right there in the declaration is a pledge of interdependence. We need one another to be free.