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Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams go, life is a barren field, frozen with snow. --Langston Hughes
Listen, you might hear the footsteps of those who would defy a government-ordered curfew to step outside their own front door in broad daylight and risk being shot.
The sensations just described are only cursory vignettes of the powerful democracy movement sweeping the Middle East right now. The so-called “Arab Spring” that began in Tunisia earlier this year is an enormously significant, grass-roots demonstration of exactly what Jefferson articulated in the American Declaration of Independence when he penned:
“...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.”
From Cairo to Syria to Yemen and Libya, we are witnessing a great mobilization led by urban professionals and students who hope to replace authoritarian rule with a more democratic system. Last week, thousands of ordinary people gathered together in the former Soviet bloc country of Belarus and did something extraordinary. Threatened with brutal reprisal should they speak at all in public, and surrounded by a menacing security force, they found a way to convey their cry for human liberty without uttering a single word. They gathered en masse and marched through the streets - clapping their hands.
The world looked to the up-start American Colonies in 1776 initially as a bizarre and doomed curiosity. The whole idea of the American Enlightenment - which began as a liberal revolution - was literally just that - an IDEA. Oh, but what a completely ridiculous and astonishing idea it was! The Founding Fathers referred to their impossibly brilliant task as “The Great Experiment”. Why did they do that?
The simple answer is because it was. The concept was entirely new. America is the first nation in the history of the world whose inception was based on an IDEAL instead of blood-lines or tribal affiliation. It wasn’t easy. The patriots knew they were committing treason against THE supreme power on the face of the planet. They also knew they were dedicating their all to a totally un-tested theory. No one had ever heard of a country tied together in loyalty to a principle. They felt the dreadful weight of that painfully small window of opportunity to orchestrate the greatest coup of all time. Not only was the world watching, but this unbelievably gifted gathering of men (seemingly at random drawn together), pondered a great deal about future generations of Americans yet unborn who might look to them with gratitude or regret. Indeed, the Founding Fathers felt they would one day answer to God, and to the family of man for what they were about to do.
We forget distracted by our modern comforts of satellites and central air and "Dancing With The Stars" episodes, how totally alien it was in World History up to that point for anything to get done anywhere without a King, dictator or some other autocratic power calling all the shots and the accompanying ruling class supported by the labor of the masses.
In our current familiarity with Constitutional rights, we forget that our daily walk out in the open - buying, selling, traveling across state lines and saying just about anything we want to in total confidence - is in debt to what they did for us as they argued and negotiated and agonized about some really crazy, really radical new ideas for how people might organize themselves.
We forget, too, that our freedom to worship “according to the dictates of our own conscience” was also a principle vigorously defended in that hot, humid room in Philadelphia while the Second Continental Congress butted heads together week after week. Everything the Founders did, was with an eye to the future, and a prayer to Heaven, because the odds were miserably against them.
The first shots of the American revolution at Lexington and Concord truly were heard around the world. The “Great Experiment” achieved the unthinkable. We won. We won! Thirteen fractious, tiny, undisciplined little rag-tag colonies fiercely defended their right to the “Pursuit of Happiness”, and negotiated two of the most influential documents in History. The ideals of the Declaration of Independence are about as perfect as they can be. The ideals set forth in the United States Constitution are absolutely breath-taking for their scope and flexibility. The Constitution is the world’s longest-lasting, most imitated written political document. When it was all finally said and done, John Adams marveled that they had by the Grace of God somehow been able to “...form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can conceive.” Time would tell how the national and world culture would gradually begin to honor those ideals so conceived.
223 years later The Constitution thankfully is still with us. Democracy is thriving in more countries than ever before. The standard of living has never been higher now that Globalization has brought the world family together with a casual click of a button - and still people leave somewhere else to come here. Amid many complaints and complicated growing-pains we hear at present, we may say - “Wait!”
We must not forget the brilliant foresight of our Constitutional framers who intentionally designed a document to survive a totally unknown future! We should acknowledge that they were undoubtedly moved upon by a Higher Power.
We must not forget that The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance. We must never forget
that We Are Americans because we Choose to Be. We cannot afford to forget that our precious liberties are still a standard to the world. What they did here, and what we do here, shouts loud and clear to those who likewise long for human freedoms amplified in this, “The Great Experiment”. Neither can we forget this sobering responsibility: the American Flag is the most iconic symbol the world has ever known. It is instantly recognized anywhere. It may not always be welcome, but it’s red, white and blue is definitely understood to symbolize a FREE PEOPLE. THAT is a voice that will not be denied.
Listen, the voice of Freedom is a whisper, growing louder.
Taste, the beauty of this, the “American Dream” that we are all blessed to enjoy and evolve within.
Feel, the momentum of this amazing, tumultuous and Divinely-inspired time in which we are witnessing a surge of the common man, grasping at Liberty and a way of life which he first observed - in us.
This week’s TIME magazine features a picture of the Constitution getting acquainted with a shredder, with the cold caption, “Does it Still Matter?” One of the concluding sentences of this thoughtful essay is genius:
“The Constitution does not protect our spirit of liberty; our spirit of liberty protects the Constitution.”
May it always be so. God bless our families and our sacred honor, and God bless America!
World Current Events, Spring-Summer 2011
The Spirit of America by William J. Bennett
This Nation Shall Endure by Ezra Taft Benson
Time Magazine, "One Document, Under Siege" by Richard Stengel 4 July 2011