[This article is adapted from one written a few years ago by Rabbi Michael Lerner with Tikkun.org and the Network of Spiritual Progressives.]
Unfortunately, the high ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence – “that all men are created equal . . .” – were not lived up to when the Constitution was created. The word “men” did not include women or Black men or Native American’s. In fact, for several decades, only White men who owned property could vote and be represented in Congress.
But our revolutionary democratic process has allowed us to nourish and grow the ideal that our country’s founders wisely but only dimly imagined. Much of what we love about the USA was created by ordinary citizens who often encountered resistance from those in power.
At this Independence Day celebration, let’s go beyond honoring our warriors and “bombs bursting in air” to give thanks for the ordinary and extraordinary people who have struggled and continue to struggle for progress in the evolution of our nation’s values. We are coming to understand the ideal of INTERDEPENDENCE – that our well-being depends on the well-being of every other person on this planet and on the well-being of the planet itself. We are moving beyond the mythology of rugged individualism, selfishness, domination by power, and the arrogant belief that we Americans are the chosen people who can do no wrong. We must adopt values of generosity, compassion, love, and respect.
While we give thanks for all that we love about the United States of America, let us give thanks to those who helped and those who continue to help make it all it can be:
The waves of immigrants from all parts of the world and their descendants who struggled to accept each other and find a place in this country, who continue our tradition of welcoming the desperate and powerless and who refuse to wall off our borders.
The escaped slaves and their allies – progressive secularists and many faith traditions (particularly Quakers) – who built the underground railroad, helped countless people to freedom, fought for emancipation from slavery, and continue to struggle toward complete civil rights for all;
The working people and labor unions who championed protections such as the eight-hour day, minimum wage, workers’ compensation, safe work places, and fair compensation;
The women (and their male allies) who risked family, job security, and their lives to obtain the vote for women and to raise our collective consciousness about the evils of patriarchy and sexism;
All those who risked scorn and violence and the loss of their families to lead the struggle against homosexual bigotry and toward the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people;
Those who continue to work for equal access for people with disabilities;
Those who advocate for sensitivity to animals and to the earth itself;
The creators, innovators and artists who have brought so much beauty and meaning into our lives through art, literature, music, dance, film, and theater;
The educators who help our children become fully-functioning human beings and not just more efficient cogs in the economic marketplace;
Those who develop the sciences and technologies that bring healing, improve our human condition and increase our sensitivity to our impact on others;
Those who have advanced our religious and spiritual thinking beyond rigid orthodoxy to emphasize love, generosity and compassion while incorporating reason and modern knowledge, and who value the separation of church, state and science;
Those who understand that our national security depends at least as much on developing friends as on defeating enemies (Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them? – Abraham Lincoln) and that peace is more than the absence of war;
And countless others who advance progressive ideals and democratic principles.
Independence from oppression requires interdependence. Our great country is not yet all it can be. The goal is not to return to some utopian past that never existed. The goal is a future that we can only barely imagine. Be part of that progress, and honor all those ordinary people who have led and are leading the way. “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Meade.