The day of independence is upon us all again. Another year in which America demands recognition for its independence and its freedoms. Another year in which many in America continue to question their independence within this free society. From America's independence in 1776 to its current year, America's notion of one free country for all vs. interdependence for some to participate in its freedoms has been its most significant struggle.
This struggle leaves us asking, "why can't everyone respect our 4th of July? Why can't everyone respect our flag, our anthem, our founding fathers, and their vision? I have pondered this and have come up with two perspectives on independence. Most interestingly enough, these perspectives derive from Frederick Douglass', "What to the slave is the fourth of July?" This perspective explains why some stand and some kneel, why some are indoctrinated in America's independence, and some are not.
The contract perspective
History has reminded us that the American doctrine of the constitution is a contract between the people and the country which guarantees freedom. It is a contract for the people and by the people or better yet put by great minds, we the people. Those who take this promise of freedom's liberty as a contract, in their own right, can also reject it when they conceive that this contract has been violated or outright broken. Again, let's look at one of my favorite speeches by Frederick Douglass in 1852, "what to the slave is the 4th of July." In Douglas' speech, he describes this proclaim independence as mockery, fraud, deception, and hypocrisy, amongst other things. In other words, a misrepresentation, at best.
Today, some still see it as a contract of what America is, not what it is ought to be. America, you said you would provide freedom, then offer it. You said you would give justice, and here I am, still waiting, after a generation. If you are not obligated to hold to your side of the contract, then neither am I. This is a perspective that we must acknowledge as patriotic.
The promise perspective
History has also reminded us that this American doctrine is a promise to progress and do better. Even in its stance, it mentions its intent, "to form a more perfect Union." A phrase that is uttered repeatedly and sincerely should never be forgotten if you believe in this promise. Again, I will pull from the speech Frederick Douglass gave in 1852,
"I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. 'The arm of the Lord is not shortened,' and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope."
Today, this promise of America is what keeps some remaining optimistic. America, I understand you are not that "perfect union," but with the proper guidance, the right spirit, there is a chance you will be. As long as we stay true to life, liberty, and justice for all, there will always be something worth fighting for, something worth living for, and in some cases, something worth dying for.
Furthermore, do not look down on the citizen if they do not see fruitfulness in your independence. They, too are a patriot, holding honest to the contract between America and the citizen. In turn, do not look down on the citizen who keeps moving forward to the promise of independence. They, too are a patriot, holding on to an American dream.
About the author
Terry Watson is a professional speaker and trainer who specializes in the topics of disability equity in education, racial justice, and law enforcement. Mr. Watson has more than 15 years working in higher education and is the founder of Strategies for Justice and the host of Moses' People Speak.