Posts Tagged ‘4th of July’

The following is the speech of Frederick Douglass, delivered when he was asked to speak to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1862.

Douglass spoke as a free Black man in the era of slavery. But his words resonate through the ages. They symbolically represent the slaves, the freed slaves living as virtual non-citizens, later under Jim Crow, and to this day as less than their white co-citizens, discriminated against in finance, housing, and employment, targeted by white supremacists and police. But these words speak as well, to the history of many people of color, to LGBTQI* people, to women, to communists and anarchists, to Muslims, polytheists, and people of all non-Christian faiths, to working people of all kinds. In short, these words can apply, to one degree or another, to most Americans, and they are an entirely accurate indictment of the USA as a whole.

On this 4th of July, as our nation works hard to erase the halting, insufficient progress we have made, as we lock people up for fleeing violence in which our country is complicit to varying degrees, as we lead the world to environmental catastrophe, as we, as a people, ignore the harm being done in our name within our borders and all around the planet, we should not be lighting off fireworks in celebration of war. We should not be reading from lofty, 18th century documents as if they have any relationship to the United States as it exists or has ever existed. We should be heeding the words of Frederick Douglass. To help us do that, here are those words.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? (more…)

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238 years ago today, a country declared its independence. The country that was created on that day had already begun its

Photo by Rob Roy, used under a Creative Commons license

Photo by Rob Roy, used under a Creative Commons license

campaign of genocide of the native people, was building its economy in large part on slavery and intended its vaunted “freedom” only for white, male land-owners, a very narrow slice of the new country’s population.

Since its inception, the country has been involved in countless wars and undeclared military actions and has routinely sacrificed the stability, security and the very lives of the people of other countries in pursuit of its interests, both economic and ideological.

Yes, there were ways in which, in 1776, the new country was a step forward, especially insofar as it reflected the institution of individual rights and the rule of law supplanting both the rule of God and the rule of kings. But it has long since been surpassed in any such ideals by many other countries.

Today, that country is the global superpower, and its policies have been a major factor (though, to be sure, far from the only one) in the devastation of Africa, the chaos in the Middle East and the massive proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the globe. It is the source of the majority of the ocean of smaller weapons in the world. It exploits impoverished countries for cheap labor and persecutes those who flee those conditions to try to seek a better life within its own shores, contrary to the purported ideals on which it was founded. It is the source of the majority of the most destructive and reactionary Judeo-Christian religious forces in the world. It has distorted the basic precepts of capitalism (however flawed they might be themselves) to empower the ultra-rich and global corporations, giving those forces enormous power. It has routinely supported some of the ugliest governments in the world (it was the last country to withdraw support from Apartheid South Africa, and the examples in Latin America are too numerous to list here), and to this day, supports crimes all around the globe, as long as the criminals enforce its own policies and objectives.

Forgive me, then, if I find little reason to celebrate the anniversary of that country’s birth.

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