Taking Stock of Independence Day
Today is the 240th anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence, the document that birthed the nation that I call my home. I count myself among those who graduated from high school during the bicentennial year. We made a big deal about being a bicentennial class (as can be seen in the above picture of the color guard, which included me (2nd from left). Not only did I graduate that year, but in the fall I voted for the first time in a presidential election (I voted for Gerald Ford, while most of my Evangelical friends voted for the "Christian" candidate -- Jimmy Carter -- whom they would abandon four years later for being too liberal).
As I write this the nation is in the midst of a very divisive election season. Neither of the candidates put forward by the two parties are especially popular, but one of them (hopefully not the bigoted demagogue whose name shall not be uttered) will be elected as President. There are grave concerns about the very fabric of the nation. People seem to have lost faith in the institutions of government. Large numbers of Americans fail to participate in the very foundation of our democracy, and that is the power of the vote. We will come out in larger numbers in Presidential years, but then fail to show up for other elections. The President is an important figure, but much of our democracy is local. As Tip O'Neil famously said -- "All politics is local." It's the city council election, the county commission or supervisor positions, mayors, state legislators, and governors. That's where things really get done.
So, today as we watch parades and fireworks, enjoy picnics and such, let us stop to remember that in a democracy, we the people are the foundation. We the people participate first and foremost through our voting. It's important to remember that in the beginning of the nation, not everyone had the right to vote. You had to be white and a land owner. Later, after the Civil War, the franchise was extended to African Americans, most of whom were recently freed slaves. Then in the early 20th century women were granted the right to vote. Of course Native Americans and Asians were still excluded. It wasn't until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act, since gutted by the Supreme Court, put some teeth into the Constitutional provision. If we value the right to vote, then let us exercise it. If we're to do so, then let us do so responsibly. If we we value our citizenship, then let us commit ourselves to participating in the life of the communities we inhabit.
If we do this, then we will honor the vision laid out in the Declaration of Independence, which spoke of both freedom and equality. Both are necessary if democracy is to flourish two hundred and forty years later!