Across the United States will break out the barbecue, pop open a cold one and plow into picnic feasts. As dusk draws near, a cache of incendiaries from sparklers to Smokey Joes will be distributed. Cities near and far will host their own fireworks displays. Families will sit on blankets and lawn chairs and oooh and awww the rainbow of explosions as the night sky lights up above them.
On July 4,1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution provides legal and governmental framework for the U.S. The document’s talking points: All men are created equal with certain unalienable rights that government must not violate. Included are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When a government fails to protect those rights, it is not only the right, but also the duty of the people to overthrow that government. In its place, the people should establish a government that is designed to protect those rights.
Governments are rarely overthrown, and shouldn’t be overthrown for trivial reasons. In this case, a long history of abuses led colonists to overthrow a tyrannical government.
Let’s take a moment to dissect. At the time of the Declaration’s signing, slavery was legal, Native Americans were being slaughtered left and right and women and children were property owned. With this, one must reconsider the “all men are created equal and life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” clause. I argue we must go further and reconsider who and where we are as a people today in a country where much of the American public is seemingly unaware of current threats to our constitutionally guaranteed rights. Activists in particular, especially activists who exercise their constitutional rights are greatly under fire.
The Patriot Act is a clear and present danger in regard to it’s restrictions on citizens’ rights and the domestic implications of the United States’ “War on Terrorism.” We saw this danger from the get go with the massive round up of citizens of Middle Eastern descent in the early days of the Act. With 9/11 came the excessive criminalization of immigrants in this country. We’ve also seen criminalization of eco and animal rights activists as terrorist enhancement penalties are tacked on to what should in many cases be prosecuted as simple acts of property damage or criminal mischief.
The Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act, signed into law in November of 2006 denies equal protection to social justice activists and restricts freedom of speech and assembly. It brands as terrorism activities that cross state lines and interfere with operation of an animal enterprise or of any entity dealing with one. It may include web posts, peaceful vigils, nonviolent civil disobedience, undercover investigations, and whistle-blowing. The Act is excessively broad and vague. It’s effect on social justice advocacy is chilling.
When the Rev. Jeremiah Wright spoke recently of the role of racism in America’s founding, his remarks were seen as treasonous and bordering on terrorist ideology to some. Never mind that he was historically correct. Never mind that he was using his right of freedom of speech while speaking the truth.
In the end he was chastised, vilified and banished. Barack Obama took the lead in Wright’s banishment, leaving his former minister hanging in a public media lynching. In this lynching the message becomes clear; don’t even think of speaking against the domestic fascist order. Don’t even mislead yourself to think that we actually exist in a democratic state. We do not. The myth of a democratic state with all guaranteed rights is as old as the myth that we all exist as equals. And I defy anyone with a sense of conscience and justice to argue that the remarks made by Rev. Wright reveal truths that are more than self-evident.
I’ve included an excerpt of a speech that Frederick Douglass gave at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall on July 5, 1852. Just what does the Fourth of July mean to those who love freedom and want to believe that we live in a democracy? How timely is Douglas’ speech and what if anything has changed for we who are aware daily of the erosion of our civil liberties? As I muse on the section of the Declaration of Independence that states that it is the duty of the people to overthrow a failing government, I leave you with the following quote:
“You don’t have a revolution in which you love your enemy and beg a system of exploitation to integrate you into it. Revolutions overturn systems!”
by Marlena Gangi