"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 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."In the 39 years since I wrote that, I have been both encouraged and discouraged, hopeful and despairing. It has felt like some version of A Tale of Two Cities: So much has changed and so little has changed, so much has been done and so little has been done. (For one thing, if you're too young to remember it, look up the Church Committee and think about the NSA.)
That is the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence and these words should form the backdrop against which the Bicentennial should be seen. Our 200th birthday as a nation should not be a time for celebrating the status quo or for patting ourselves on the back in an orgy of national self-congratulation, but rather a time to reexamine and rediscover the truly revolutionary heritage which America has.
Even more than that, it should be a time to rededicate ourselves to the ideals of the Declaration, to recognize that it is, as the Declaration says, our right and duty to resist dramatically increasing government control of our lives. It is our duty to resist the CIA and FBI when they try to probe every secret of our lives; it is our duty to resist attempts to muzzle, restrict, intimidate, and otherwise restrain both freedom of speech and of the press. It is our duty to resist a militarist US foreign policy that destroys the life and liberty of people in other lands and a militarist US federal budget that proposes to increase spending on weapons by 30% while human needs go unmet. It is our duty to resist government policies that favor big business at the expense of the general public, while inflation and unemployment run rampant. It is our duty to resist a government that seems no longer (if indeed it ever was) interested in and dedicated to securing the "safety and happiness" of the populace.
We do not believe in violence, but we do believe in revolution - nonviolent revolution. And we believe that we are fully within the revolutionary heritage of America when we say we believe it is our duty to demand our rights and our duty to use nonviolence to make any changes necessary to secure those rights, for ourselves and for all others.
Sometimes it seems that the only comfort is that the only reason things aren't worse than they are is because of the struggles there have been both during those 39 years and before. So even where we have - as we have more than often enough - fallen short, we can at least say those struggles were not in vain: No genuine effort for justice ever is, no matter the outcome.
And those struggles can be nothing but invigorated when we maintain a day-to-day awareness of, and base the only legitimate patriotism on, our revolutionary heritage.
Footnote 1: The date for the flyer is not a typo; the official Bicentennial Year ran from July 4, 1975 to July 4, 1976.
Footnote 2: UShistory.org has some interesting background on the Declaration of Independence, including earlier drafts. Some of the changes are revealing - such as one long passage denouncing the English slave trade that was deleted.