There was a time when people came together every year on the Fourth of July to hear someone read the Declaration of Independence. They stood in town squares, on village greens, in front of court houses, by general stores, in grange halls, in union halls. They were young and old, rich and poor. Some were members of families who had been here for generations. Others were recent arrivals. They were all Americans.
The men who voted for independence in 1776 did something that no one had ever done before. And they decided that, in declaring it, they would explain to the world why they were doing it. They were risking their lives when they signed the declaration, and they knew it. Benjamin Franklin said they would have to hang together or they would surely hang separately. And they pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
People from other parts of the world joined the cause: Lafayette, Rochambeau, Steuben, Kosciuszco. People in Europe and in South America followed their example. Over time they changed the world.
There was a time when Americans were the good guys. We thought of ourselves that way, and a lot of other people did too. Americans were never perfect, but we were people who worked hard, played fair, and defended people who needed our help. We did things on a grand scale, and we did them well: Social Security, the rural electrification project, the GI Bill, the interstate highway system, the Civil Rights Act, the space program, Medicare, the Voting Rights Act, the Affordable Care Act.
We took our international responsibilities seriously too. A leader of the American Expeditionary Force could say in France in 1917 “Lafayette, we are here.” Americans who landed at Normandy with their British, Canadian, and Free French comrades in 1944 were greeted by French farmers as they moved east toward Paris, farmers who handed the GIs tomatoes because they had nothing else to give them. And Americans helped to rebuild the war-torn cities and the failing economies of Europe and Japan.
There was a time when our heroes spoke for people who had no voices: Jane Addams, Alice Paul, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Jody Williams, and others.
There was a time when patriotism meant more than just chanting “U.S.A. U.S.A.” at the Olympics, and a time when diplomacy was more than the art of the deal.
This is our time. Let’s use it wisely.
Enjoy the holiday. Enjoy the fireworks, the marching bands, the cook-outs, the baseball games, and the concerts in the park. But remember how we got here. And remember that the part of the Declaration of Independence about all men being created equal and having unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness applies to everybody. Everywhere. All the time.
Observe the Fourth of July. And celebrate Independence Day.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.