...a lot of things. It marks the 235th birthday of our nation. It marks the birth of an experiment, a manifestation of ideas. It marks a day for sun, fireworks, hot dogs, burgers and flag waving. It marks the day Abraham Lincoln asked for 500,000 troops as the South demanded secession. It marks the day Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died in 1826, Thoreau moved into his shack on Walden Pond in 1845, the Statue of Liberty was presented in Paris in 1884, Lou Gehrig made his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939, and tonight I'm going to see the Mets play at Dodger Stadium...
So what? Not just to the Mets and Dodgers, but so what to any of it?
What does it mean? What is the significance of declaring independence? One can speculate as to what it meant as the founding fathers stood in what must have been an atrociously warm Philadelphia, a year of war with Britain under their belts, finalizing what would become a beacon, a cornerstone for this American experiment. But today, what does it mean? Polls suggest that 1 in 4 Americans don't even know who we declared independence from. A mere 58% know it took place in 1776. The poll also suggests that the younger the person was, the less likely they were to know the correct answer.
In the prologue to one of my fathers books he notes, if one does not know one's past, one can not hope to understand the future.
In my experience, Americans walk blindly into the future, clutching to ideals they don't even fully understand, using them as a crutch against the weight of our own issues and realities, hoping all will be well because of the flags they fly and the big guy in the sky.
They wander into political parties because of friends or loose affiliations. They push to an extreme simply because the rhetoric sounds cool. Solid issues and stances take a back seat to pandering and bantering. Intelligence and familiarity with key issues pales in comparison to the importance of party loyalty and ideological faith.
As an activist growing up, I pushed my truths and opinions on others. I wanted them to see that I was right, that my point of view was the start of enlightenment, the beginning of finding more information, more knowledge, because for me, it of course was.
Now, I just want people to see. I don't want people to know exactly what I know. I want them to research, think, dig, and find other truths, other buried aspects and dirty secrets of this city upon a hill. I do not wish to preach, I wish to teach.
Like Thomas Jefferson wrote (granted, many Americans might not even know who he is):
“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
Ergo, if a people is not informed, they can not be trusted with their own government. They will hold no sway over this sagging republic, this corporatized state...sound familiar?
Because that's where we are today.
Our government is a corporate entity wholly outside our jurisdiction. It is a free floating society, the medium between the top 1% and the bottom 99%.
It is a constant banter between left and right, the center being all but erased, considered "wishy-washy," unpatriotic, indecisive and well, just un-American.
It's ironic to think so when if one looks at history, the bulk of all forward moving legislation was done from the center, from a place of debate and compromise.
But who bothers with history anymore? My twitter feed is updating and True Blood is on in half an hour.
James Palombo, a professor, lecturer and author (and dare I say activist) has been through the system. With an undergraduate degree and three graduate degrees, he's seen and knows a few things about education. Being that he earned his undergraduate degree in prison, he has a pretty good grip on the justice system as well. In his book, Criminal To Critic, he chronicles his own life as well opens up a dialog for some major hypocrisies and pit falls of this American experiment. The interesting thing is how he comes to know them, to share them. He explains in detail his education, from inside the cell to outside - indeed, the theme of education is a red thread throughout the book. It is constantly in the back of your head, creeping forward and touching on various points of your mind as you read.
It brings to light the very basic fact that a country of the people, for the people and by the people will create a political system in direct parallel of the people. That those in power will write laws, will create legislation based on the position of the people. If they can get away with building a government around capitalist and corporate ideals, well shit, why not? More dough for the top and fuck the bottom, they don't care anyway.
If we are apathetic, lazy and disengaged from the issues at hand, how can we possibly expect the government to pull our weight, to push our needs and wants forward?
If we pull left and right, pushing the envelope to ever more remote extremes, how can we blame the government for reaching no agreements or conclusions? If we do not act, do not stand up, how can we complain over the things that come to pass?
And how can you act if you have no knowledge of the issues needing your attention? And at this point, how can you educate yourself if you don't know to?
A tricky conundrum. One that I myself try to constantly hurdle, using the medium of music to transport a message. It is a problem James Palombo, along with CIC (Campaign for Informed Citizenry: cicorg.com) attempts to tackle - promoting an engaged and educated dialog on current issues and concerns.
Point being, it's not enough to say that shit is wrong - that's blatantly obvious even to someone just crawling out from under a rock. Citizens, and as we have seen, particularly youth, need to be more conscious of their role in a republic. We have to constantly stay up on happenings, here and all over the world, as our scope of greed and arrogant power is clearly borderless.
And from that education, that knowledge, we must push forward for change. We must Think. React. Do Something.
This is our country, our experiment, our choices - and yes, not making a choice is still a choice.
So, on this 4th of July, while you're kicking back a brew, enjoying a burger under a perfect blue sky, a proud flag waving in the soft breeze...let these thoughts, these questions cross your mind:
If we are to celebrate independence, let us think what independence means.
Do we have it?
If so, do we care for it? How?
If not, how the hell and why did we lose it?
And how do we get it back?
Happy Independence Day.