This article is the latest revision of one written a few years ago by Rabbi Michael Lerner with Tikkun.org and the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
We Americans take great pride in the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence – “that all men are created equal . . . .” However, those ideals did not originally apply to 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.
As we honor the ideals and aspirations of our Founders on Independence Day, we must remember the work done by many ordinary citizens who extended those ideals, often against resistance from those in power.
As a former army officer and Vietnam veteran, I’m proud of my military service, but on this Independence Day, let’s go beyond honoring our military warriors to give thanks to the ordinary and extraordinary people who have struggled and continue to struggle to expand civil rights to all Americans. The enemies of progress are more often domestic than foreign.
Many people throughout the history of our wonderful nation have worked tirelessly and sometimes at great risk to protect and extend our American ideals:
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.
Abolitionists who built the underground railroad, helped countless people to freedom, fought for emancipation from slavery, and their contemporary counterparts who continue to struggle to eliminate human exploitation and trafficking;
Working people and labor unions who championed protections such as the eight-hour day, a livable minimum wage, workers’ compensation, safe work places, and fair compensation;
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 full acceptance of and equal access for people with disabilities;
Those who advocate for sensitivity to animals and to the earth itself, including protection of our air, water, land, and climate;
Creators, innovators and artists who have brought so much beauty and meaning into our lives through art, literature, music, dance, film, and theater;
Educators who help our children become fully-functioning human beings and not just more efficient cogs in the economic marketplace;
Scientists and technicians who bring healing, improve our human condition and increase our sensitivity to our impact on others and our planet;
Those who have advanced our religious and spiritual thinking beyond antiquated 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 and that peace is more than the absence of war;
Protestors who challenge the powerful and the malevolent and the self-serving and the complacent to protect and advance our hard won and still evolving democratic ideals;
And countless others who never give up, never give in, and believe in e pluribus unum.
Independence from oppression requires interdependence and cooperation. Our government is simply a means of pooling resources to accomplish what cannot be done individually. 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 – 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. Be part of that progress, and honor all those ordinary people who have led and are leading the way.