“The time is now at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be Free men, or Slaves,” he wrote. There is some irony in this quote, because even though I wasn’t there, I’m pretty sure he was not speaking about the slaves he owned.
Fast forward — we all know how it turned out.
Or do we? America still is very much a work in progress. We’re a long way from the finish line. So as we reflect on what our Founding Fathers gave to us in July 1776 it’s a good exercise to talk about what it means to us today.
With that in mind I asked some community types to write down — using only a few words — what Independence Day means to them. And to consider today’s events as they write.
After you’ve read them, I will offer a bit of an off-kilter view on what independence means to me. And how that could — dramatic pause required here — save our country. So keep reading!
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“Many Blacks fought in the war for independence. They were promised freedom if America won. Fredrick Douglass stated, ‘This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn.’ ” — Bridgette Fahnbulleh, president, NAACP Vancouver branch.
“July Fourth embodies the spirit of our founding: The fight against oppression, transferring power to the people, and the pursuit of a more perfect union.” — U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground.
“July Fourth is a celebration of our country’s democratic values and a reminder of the constant work to protect liberty, equality and justice for all.” — Carolyn Long, Washington State University Vancouver professor and Democrat, challenging Herrera Beutler.
“This solemn day reminds me that we declared independence for all individuals so they might have the liberty to live a safe and joyful life.” — Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle.
“My old pickup truck in the side yard reminds me of Stepdad’s tears, whose veteran’s heart loved the band music at the Reserve.” — Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.
“The freedoms we value as citizens in the United States are like none other and we should cherish and steadfastly guard them … forever.” — Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver.
“It’s an important day to reflect on the work of building ‘a more perfect union.’ And every other day? We should be doing that work.” — County Councilor Temple Lentz.
“It means a hot dog in one hand and an ice cold Pepsi in the other!” — Former state Rep. Jim Moeller.
“It is a landmark, moving us forward to the future, with courage rather than fear and a renewed commitment to respecting human dignity.” — Former County Councilor Jeanne Stewart.
“It represents the opportunity, equality and unique freedoms we’re afforded as Americans and these shared ideals can reunite our nation.” — Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.
“I get teary-eyed listening to Neil Diamond’s song, ‘America.’ We still have significant work to do for those same tears to be held by ALL Americans for the right reasons.” — Former Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.
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Honestly, all of the above are picture-frame worthy. Even my dear friend Jim Moeller’s view. But if you’ll allow me, let me offer a slightly different take.
Independence should give us the permission to not be beholden to what we’ve been hard-wired to believe. And to be self-assured enough to not go along with group think because our drinking buddies or book club members are driving the conversation.
When I sat on the editorial board at a newspaper in Fort Myers, Fla., the editor once described me as a “loose cannon.” Others looked at that as negative. I wore it as a badge of honor.
I was neither a conservative nor a liberal. I felt like I could not only question the views of others I respected, but also question my own beliefs as well.
I bet there are others like me. But there are also too many who can’t do this. Those who not only can’t give the other side a chance but — more importantly — can’t give themselves a chance … to change. And this last part is the most important. Give yourself a chance to look at things differently so you can change yourself.
So what would be my quote?
“Just when you thought you were going to zig because of your own hard-wired beliefs, you gave it some additional thought … and you zagged.”
Once everyone begins zagging kumbaya will spread across the land, traveling faster than the Coronavirus, saving us all!
Wow, this securing the country’s future is exhausting. Hey Jim, grab me a dog and a cold Pepsi. Let’s celebrate!
Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor emeritus. His column of personal opinion appears the first Saturday of every month. Lounews1@gmail.com