John W. Eyster: A reason for hope this Fourth of July
I HOPE that WE THE PEOPLE of the USA will be AWARE OF the SIGNIFICANT MEANING of the 4th of July as we celebrate this weekend. CELEBRATION is truly appropriate, but it is ENRICHED if we are aware/mindful of its REAL REASON, the official ratification of the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE on the 4th of July 1776. Interesting that John Adams, a key leader for the declaration, wanted July 2, the date on which the Congress voted to DECLARE INDEPENDENCE. It was then on July 4 that the Congress RATIFIED the final text declaring independence. The term, “Declaration of Independence” is NOT used in the document itself.
IF you need to read the text of our DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, it is published today on page 4A of the Janesville Gazette, “Our monument to liberty.” Commendation and gratitude to Gazette editorial page editor, GREG PECK for providing this easy access for readers noting, “Its message remains well worth rereading today.” I agree and URGE readers of my WE THE PEOPLE blog to reread our DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE today as part of YOUR celebration of the 238th anniversary of its ratification by Congress. If you do not have access to the Janesville Gazette, I recommend the text transcription ONLINE from our U.S. Archives as part of its, “The Charters of Freedom” series, “Declaration of Independence.”
The rationale for INDEPENDENCE is stated in the PREAMBLE paragraph. Then the philosophical FOUNDATION of the United States of America is clearly stated in the next paragraph declaring, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
Implementing the philosophical basis for government, the text starts articulating the case against the KING, “The history of the present King of Great Britain…” The Declaration proceeds to the long list of indictment/charges against the King. The case is closed asserting the appropriateness of NOW declaring that the United Colonies are “Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;…”
The Declaration is affirmed by the PERSONAL commitment of the signers, “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.” What PERSONAL COMMITMENT are YOU and I willing to make on this 238th anniversary of the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE?
Why do I ask about OUR PERSONAL COMMITMENT? I have become more and more aware of the realities of the situations in which WE THE PEOPLE deny the basic SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS to others. CONSIDER: All men (persons) are created equal. All persons are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Among the unalienable RIGHTS are: LIFE, LIBERTY and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Do YOU and I commit ourselves to these basic values?
I hope that YOU have been attuned to the fact that July 2 was the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. There are numerous informative feature articles reporting on that very significant event in US history. I recommend the following:
Reading numerous feature news articles along with editorial and opinion columns, I was shocked by the assertion by Katrina Vanden Heuvel in her opinion column, “50 years after Freedom Summer, America needs a year of action. “ But 50 years after Freedom Summer, the United States faces the greatest curbs on voting rights since Reconstruction, with the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act last year and 22 states passing new voting restrictions since 2010. Poll taxes and literacy tests have been replaced with burdensome new laws that help keep approximately 3.7 million eligible black voters unregistered across the South. And an estimated 2.6 million American felons — including nearly 8 percent of all black adults — are barred from voting, despite having served their sentences.” What do YOU think?
Vanden Heuvel did acknowledge, “And there is much to celebrate. Mississippi — where only 28,000 blacks were registered to vote in 1963 — now boasts more black elected officialsthan any other state, including the recently reelected first black mayor of Philadelphia, the site of the brutal murders of three civil rights workers. The 'WHITES' and 'COLORED' signs have long since come down. A black man sits in the Oval Office.”
In spite of those improvements, I share her concern, “With more and more Americans losing what President Lyndon Johnson called “the basic right without which all others are meaningless,” the remaining pool of older, whiter, more conservative voters are desperately trying to take the country back to a past we'd rather not revisit. In North Carolina, to pick a particularly egregious example, the GOP has slashed unemployment insurance, blocked a minimum wage expansion, opted out of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, cut universal prekindergarten, cleared the way for fracking, enacted one of the nation's harshest voter-identification laws, and dramatically reduced access to abortion while allowing concealed weapons in bars, schools, and playgrounds. Even more astoundingly, they accomplished that destructive agenda in just a few short years.”
She makes the point agreeing with Martin Luther King III, “All of this reinforces why, as Martin Luther King III recently said, we need 'not just this moment of reflection, but also a year of action.' And activists and advocates across the country are taking that charge seriously.”
I am among the citizens of the USA and WISCONSIN who is GRATEFUL that US Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R – Wis. #5) that he has joined with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich) spearheading a bipartisan push to restore the section of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court overturned. Rep. Sensenbrenner was the CHAIR of the House Judiciary Committee and is now a regular member. He has been one of the key leaders on issues for the GOP on issues in the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee. GRATITUDE & COMMENDATION to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner on this support for protection of VOTING RIGHTS!
HAPPY to learn too that US Representative Mark Pocan (D – Wis. #2) and Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) have proposed a constitutional amendment to affirmatively guarantee and protect the right to vote for all Americans of legal age.
My GREATEST SURPRISE came when Vanden Heuvel reported, “Even Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — who has criticized a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — is introducing a bill with cross-party appeal to restore federal voting rights to nonviolent felons.” Believe it or not! I would underscore that the 2010 US Census reported that WI has the highest percentage of incarcerated black men among all the states of the U.S.! If you are interested in this challenging issue, you will want to learn more about the “11X15” – a project of WISDOM, calling for reform of the Criminal Justice System for a safer and healthier Wisconsin. If you want more information about WISDOM, read “About WISDOM.”
My AUDACITY of HOPE was increased learning from the column about young citizens who are informed and involved. Vanden Heuvel reports, “Meanwhile, fired by the same spirit of righteous indignation that drove their predecessors, a movement of young people and minorities and progressives of all stripes is stepping up. Already, we have seen weekly 'Moral Monday' protests pop-up in North Carolina in response to the Republican assault on working people. They are joined this summer by a network of grassroots activists and organizations calling themselves Freedom Sid, which hopes to recruit and train over 4,000 volunteers and register more than 30,000 young voters in Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Ohio. Their efforts are aimed at a broad spectrum of social ills, from the restriction of voting rights to mass incarceration to immigration reform to youth unemployment. “The best way to commemorate Freedom Summer,” the group says, 'is to reinvent it and take back the democratic process for our generation.'”
As I celebrate this 238th anniversary of our 4th of July, I pray and work that WE THE PEOPLE will commit ourselves to fulfilling the values of OUR DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE with the conviction, “ALL PERSONS ARE CREATED EQUAL” as the foundation and launching pad. What is YOUR commitment?
John W. Eyster lives in the Edgerton area. He is an adjunct professor of political science at UW-Whitewater and an advocate for Project Citizen, a model curriculum for democracy/civics education in Wisconsin high schools. John is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.