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July 04, 2004


I have long been attracted to the symbols of America. As a teen, I had a massive American flag on my bedroom wall. I'm still a big fan of Sousa's music, but today is all about independence.

When I first got involved with anti-racist politics 14 years ago, it was the Declaration of Independence which was my inspiration. I read it then in rather hyperbolic terms as the great standing complaint of dead white men upon which a nation was build. Emphasis on dead whites. I always respected the document from many different perspectives, however in this effort the 'litany of complaint' was missing several key elements in my anti-racist and multicultural politics, namely racism and sexism.

What catches my eye this year is the following idea:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

The balance of human power is reverting back, in many ways, to the agency of the individual. Our ability to coordinate and manage people is being overtaken by the technology and knowledge available to the single actors and small groups. But at the moment for most of the world the problem is not this dissolution but the enduring grip of power over the many by the hierarchically organized few. Even as small private firms launch vehicles into space, despotic governments starve the masses.

Clearly from a neoconservative perspective it is America's duty to assist such global brothers from tyranny. But reading the Declaration and lightly thinking on our own history might lead some to conclude that intervention is not anyone's duty. Certainly any number of wars on this continent were not fought for such noble intentions as liberation of the oppressed, and we turned out OK. Consider the very next sentence:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

The burden is clearly placed upon the oppressed people to throw off the shackles of the oppressors and take up arms if necessary. Is it ever that simple?


Posted by mbowen at July 4, 2004 09:56 AM

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