Happy Birthday America
Musings About the 4th of July in Queens
It seems every six months or so, I get a chance to reflect on life. Since the July 4th holiday will soon be upon us, I’m going to expand that reflection to encompass the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” put forth in the Declaration of Independence.
It seems the older folks who surrounded me in my youth were right. They told me that as you get older, the years will pass by more quickly. As a youngster I thought, “How can that be?” And while technically my youthful query was correct - perceptually it was not.
When I was ten years old, a year represented a tenth of my life. At 25 it represented only 4% of my life, and at 39 it’s a mere 2.5% [heh]. So the years do spin by more quickly, perhaps because they represent less and less a portion of the whole.
Julius Caesar, Mahatma Ghandi & American Independence
One might use this approach to looking back at things as a method to put in perspective so much else that has passed through time. Julius Caesar was said to have ruled the world, when in fact he primarily ruled the parts of Europe and the Middle East surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. And while he presided over a population that was about a fifth of the world’s population at the time, today the Roman Empire headcount is less than the population of Mexico.
Fast forward to the 20th century and compare the legend of Julius Caesar to the legacy of Mahatma Ghandi. Ghandi was instrumental in organizing and freeing ten times as many people from British Empire rule, as lived under the rule of Julius Caesar in the Roman Empire. And Ghandi helped free his Indian people without the use of a single arrow, sword or gun.
About two centuries prior to Ghandi’s effort - in 1776 - the thirteen American colonies declared themselves free of British Empire rule. These colonies today comprise the states along the eastern seaboard of the United States, excluding Florida, but including a few of the states' inland neighbors, such as Pennsylvania.
The population of the American colonies, at the time the colonists declared their independence, was about 2.5 million or only a few hundred thousand more people, than the number of people that currently reside in Queens NYC today.
God, Home & Country
When I was a boy, I was taught to hold God, Home and Country in the highest regard. What each of these concepts meant to me at that time has changed over the years, as I accumulated knowledge and experience about the world, which challenged many of the assumptions taught to me in my youth.
Some measure of what I learned growing up, was in a sense, what anthropologists call tribal knowledge. It was a body of information / understandings / perspectives about the world that the community shared that had been passed from generation to generation.
The 'tribal knowledge' teachings were assumed to be fact – by all of us in the ‘tribe’ – even though the teachings were essentially a narrative developed by those in charge, interpreted by the tribal scribe, and based upon the group's understanding of the world / universe at the time. The narrative included messages about what's important, how to properly conduct oneself and in some measure our communal identity.
The written 'tribal' narrative evolves in tandem with the 'tribal' culture and it is reinforced, and at times reinterpreted, by the communal elders and institutions through ritual, ceremonies and celebrations. Celebrating our American independence on July 4th is one such 'tribal' cultural ritual and every year it gives us pause to reflect upon where we have come from, discuss who we are and think about where we are going.
Our 'tribe' has grown to be a nation that spans from sea to shining sea, and is home to nearly 320 million people.
Click here to read the rest of our story about 4th of July in Queens.
Happy Birthday America
4th of July in Queens
America The Beautiful: Because Of All Of Its Rancor
What is Country? When I was younger the definition of nation was described as the land encompassed within our borders and its citizens / residents. Today my notion of country is more textured and has many more layers of understanding than I had as a boy. The geographic borders and national documentation proving citizenship are at the lower end of what the America means to me today.
My notion of Country has changed over time: "America – Love It or Leave It" was a slogan repeatedly expressed during the tumultuous decades of the Vietnam War. It was used to deride and discredit the anti-war protesters of that era as being unpatriotic, and implied that every war our President and Congressional Leaders decide to take us into, is a just war.
When I was young, I saw the protesters as cowards and wrong. I responded to that slogan and developed an attitude that likely those who created those slogans had intended.
But today I see those protesters as American citizens who exercised their right to freedom of speech. And who in doing so, may have saved countless lives [possibly including their own] and changed the course of history.
When one person [the President] asks you to sacrifice your life for your country - in America you have a right - the First Amendment right - to ask him if the cause you're going to risk your life for is really for the good of the country, or whether you are sacrificing your life for benefit of the President and the military technology, oil or other especially self-interested supporters who finance his campaigns. It's a fair question, especially when it's your life on the line.
American Ideals: An Aspirational System Of Humanity
It is the American ideals that I find appealing about our Country and who we are. It is the ideals that impassion me, and it is a credit of those founding father colonialists, who embedded it into our cultural DNA. Ideals like the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness FOR EVERYONE ... not just the few, which was in vogue during British Empire rule, during the Roman Empire rule and even far further back in time.
At the time of this nation’s founding, the ideals espoused were not - in fact - being practiced. African Americans were prisoner slaves of their white owners, women were treated as second-class citizens with far fewer rights than men, and non-heterosexuality was either ignored or it was something to be exorcised.
But in the roughly 239 years since the nation declared its independence we, as a people, have worked through these issues in a manner that is consistent with the ideals laid out by the founding fathers of our nation.
An Older, Evolving American System & Especially Self Interested HACKERS
The American system of government is very old. My father used to tell me that it is the oldest continuously operating system of democratic government in the world. I went online to verify that, but found that there are some who would dispute this. Nonetheless the American system of government is easily ONE of the oldest and longest continuously operating systems of government and it was built like a fine computer system, with checks and balances built into it, to ensure that those who are especially self-interested would have difficulty hacking the government apparatus to serve their own – not the communal - interest.
But it's well known by computer security experts that any system can be hacked - given enough time. Thus we can find numerous examples where our system of government has been co-opted to serve especially self interested organizations at the expense of the community / nation. But that said, since our nation's inception, nobody has yet taken complete control of the government to serve their own interests, and the partisan rancor shows that the freedom of speech is alive and well, and that the debate about who we are and where we're going continues.
Ultimately the founding fathers tried to provide the American people with as much power as they could, by providing all Americans with a right to free speech and the freedom to assembly. And it is only through the vigilance of the citizenry, that a democracy can continue to operate properly, in the service of the community. Without such citizen vigilance the system will be co-opted toward selfish private, not public, goals.
Past Presidents Have Wisely Counseled Us
It was Thomas Jefferson who put together several pithy phrases, which sum up the sentiments expressed above.
“A people who expect to remain ignorant and free, is something that never was and never will be …
[and] ... eternal vigilance is the price of democracy …”
Lincoln observed that politicians and the especially self interested can
"… fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but that they can’t fool all of the people all of the time … “
And Franklin Delano Roosevelt observed that
“... worthy institutions can only be conserved by adjusting them to the changing time …”
Unlike a great deal of other / prior bodies of tribal knowledge, the tribal knowledge which has evolved as the American system of governance, was created with the recognition that the world continues to change, and that how we organize and conduct ourselves as a community may at times need to be adjusted to encompass, guide or manage those societal changes. Hence the process for change was built into the system of governance, but changes to it should be done carefully, thoughtfully and sparingly - in a manner consistent with how the founding documents and structure were first created.
Regenerative Government: Take Care Of The System & The System Will Take Care Of You
We Americans have been generally lucky. Lucky to have been born here and lucky to be here. This is a great nation and it was endowed with great natural wealth. But perhaps most importantly, it was founded on high-minded principles that aspire to enable all of its citizens to live up to their full potential.
There are currently movements afoot that appear to be working toward the dismantling of the promise of America - the promise of opportunity for all. Naturally these efforts have started by picking on the weakest people amongst us: those least able to defend their rights and themselves.
One of the battle lines appears to be within the realm of providing equal access to a quality education. It seems some people want to re-allocate funding to those at the middle and the higher end of the food chain, by taking the funding from those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. They want to do this by providing tax deductions to those who have decided not to use the public school system, and by funding these tax handouts, with public school system budgeted money. This would have the effect of reducing educational funding for those who cannot afford to send their children to private schools, and thus hinder the lower and middle classes from getting a competitive education in the public school system.
Another battle line in New York City is with regard to affordable housing. Right now there are over 60,000 New Yorkers who don’t have a place they can call home. I understand that about 23,000 or more of these people are school age children. It is difficult to envision how these children will overcome this domestic instability and transition themselves onto the path to becoming contributing members of society, without something being done to remedy this situation. For better or worse, the beginning of this transition appears to fall into the purview of municipal, state and federal government officials. I suppose the one bright spot is that it appears that the growth in homelessness in NYC has slowed the last year or so.
To be sure we have come a long way, America, as evidenced by progress made with race, gender and sexual preference equality. But as you can see from the two examples cited above, the modern day discrimination battles are being fought largely along economic / class lines. So we still have a long way to go.
Happy Birthday Queens America & May You Stay The Course
Happy Birthday Queens America and may you have many, many, many more.
The saying goes, “many hands make light work”, which interpreted means if we all do our bit and chip in a little, then no single person or group has to do the heavy lifting.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and you can click here for 4th of July fireworks in Queens, including viewing locations and times.
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