Happy Fourth of July, American Independence Day!
I’m sure the folks over in England may have a different name for this day, but for us, it symbolizes the time when the colonists (or invaders, to the people who were here before them) decided that they no longer wished to be ruled by a king across the ocean, and so they staged a rebellion to set up a republic (which didn’t include the people who were here before them, or the slaves that the colonists imported from another continent entirely) with a whole bunch of really cool principals and ideals that have evolved over time into something that still bears a semblance to the republic they created.
That’s the more or less politically correct version, and while there is room for improvement, it was founded on ideals that were, perhaps, better than the reality it actually created.
I’m sure I’m sounding like a whiny liberal right about now, and I’m about to sound even whinier and more annoying. There, you’ve been warned. But please know, I DO love my country, warts and all.
Today, I’ve witnessed a stream of Facebook posts about celebration, thanking God, and thanking the servicemen and women for our freedom. And while these are good things, I want to take a moment and reflect on something that may piss a few people off. Namely, I find myself a little annoyed by those sentiments.
Why? Because the veterans and the servicemen and women do a great service to our country in protecting our boarders, and I am grateful, but I feel they have other days to celebrate, and this holiday should be about more than “Hey, we won a war, and we keep winning wars, and that’s why we’re so great, and YAY GOD!”
America is about more than the continuous fight for freedom. Why does freedom seem to have so many enemies, exactly? Oh, because sometimes we try to push it on others. Or other people don’t like us being free. Or whatever, I really can’t figure that out. The truth is, we’ve become an Empire, though we don’t call ourselves such, and we have a tendency to see ourselves as the Democracy Police at times, and we spend so much time battling that we forget exactly what we are trying to protect.
And in the midst of all this battling, we’ve lost some of those things. Hopefully, we’ve gained others, but here is a list of the things we’ve lost in the past decades:
Upward Mobility. There was a time when anyone in this country could, with hard work and an education, rise in the social order of things and amass wealth or status. At least that was true for the people who were actually included in the Constitution. (White men. Native Americans were their own thing, and women and slaves were just property of white men.) While the Constitution is now more all-inclusive, the economics of this nation have shifted and continue to shift in ways that lock people into whatever class into which they were born. Don’t believe me?
Let’s start with obtaining that education. Have you paid college tuition lately? Just tuition, we’re not even going down the “books and other essentials”road just yet.
CNN Money made the following chart a few years ago:
Of course tuition is not the entire picture. Books? My PAPERBACK books (which frequently come from the same publisher: Pearson) run as much or more than the hardcover, beautifully bound books I purchased in law school in 1996. Yes, time has gone by, but when did someone decide that a paperback book should cost over $100? A paperback book that will be obsolete in another two years, no less.
So what is a kid to do if their parents didn’t make enough money to set aside to prepay their tuition, room and board, and books? Work? HA. Good luck. Let’s assume that you’re luckier than most kids, and you land a $10/hour job rather than the standard $7.50/hour minimum wage job. You would have to work 10 hours (we’re not even getting into the taxes and social security and other costs pulled out of your paycheck!) JUST to pay for ONE text book (before tax, of course.) Some of your classes might require 2-3 textbooks. After a trip through the bookstore for several semesters, (Again, Community College) I can promise you that you aren’t likely to spend less than $100/class. Times at least four classes for “full time” (most kids take five) and you’ve just spent more than a week of full time wages on text books. Now, how much was your tuition again?
Of course, this is only a problem if you were born into the middle class ranks or lower. The top earners can not only pay their kids’ book fees and tuition without blinking, they can send them to prestigious schools that all but guarantee they will come out with the skills and connections to land a six figure job.
Loans? You will probably be paying that debt for the rest of your life. Good thing there are no debtor’s prisons in America. Oh, wait:
There are countless stories of people arrested for not being able to pay up. We’re not even touching on income taxes, either.
Upward mobility is a dying thing.
Privacy, and the freedom from searches and seizures. Remember that whole rule about the government needing probable cause to search your home or take away your possessions? I remember. Welcome to Post-9/11, and the Patriot Act. Nothing is personal anymore. We’re not just talking about the stuff you write on Facebook and over-share with your friends and coworkers, either. Your email, your telephone conversations, that time you picked your nose in what you thought was the privacy of your Dodge Caravan with the tinted windows? Yeah, someone was reading, someone was listening, and someone caught that on camera.
Trust me on this – I work in a police station, and the regional utilities company of our fair city graciously donated a beautiful monster of a computer that hooks up to a bunch of intersections around the city. At this point, we have certain key intersections set on auto-record, in case something criminal happens in which we may need to narrow down suspects. So if some poor dude gets mugged on the corner of X Street and Y Avenue, we may have caught it on camera, and we may be able to determine the car the suspects used to get away, and issue a BOLO.
Because we have ours set on record, we can’t see as well. I never touch the things, let alone zoom in on them, but if I wanted to? Yeah, I could. I could zoom in well enough not only to read a license plate, I could get a visual on the driver sitting at that traffic light. Now, if I were using it to look down the shirts of pedestrians, I’d no doubt be fired – once someone figured it out. (Again, not something I would do.) But – in another center with access to the same cameras, they had to lecture people because they were doing improper things.
Yes, we are definitely missing some of the freedoms that once existed. That said, we have a system in place that, if we but USE IT, has checks and balances that can correct not only the more recent problems, but the older problems that have existed since the Colonists first dumped tea in Boston Harbor.
They weren’t all soldiers.
I think that’s why the Facebook postings are getting to me. What makes our country great isn’t our ability to protect behind the barrel of a gun, or nuke the hell out of anyone who challenges us. What makes us great are the farmers who toil the land and produce the food on your table. It’s the teachers who often donate their time, talent and money to make sure that struggling student finally gets it. It’s the bus drivers who get you to and from work because you could no longer afford the “privilege” of having a driver’s license, let alone a car. It’s the kid who rings up your groceries at 3:00 a.m. because you realized after working your second job that you have nothing left to eat in your house. It’s EVERYONE who has ever stood up for a belief that all human beings are worthy of respect, that each of us has “Unalienable Rights.” Yes, it is even that gun-toting lunatic across the street with whom you disagree.
Each and every one of us has the ability to make this country, this world, a fairer and better place each and every day, with the little decisions we make. And while an Almighty Being may or may not be watching over us, He/She has been kind of quiet about it, not interfering too much, unless you think that being cares more about helping you find the perfect blue dress at JC Penney than about freeing a child who was abused for years from the horrible people who tortured him.
Side note: my brother is in prison for longer than both of these people combined, because he zip-tied his mother-in-law and took his own two children in a sailboat to Cuba. With his wife. The mother-in-law was understandably upset, but physically not injured, and the two little boys came back perfectly healthy and treating the incident like a vacation with Mom and Dad. That plea bargain deal was made after independent psychiatrists determined that my brother suffers from schizophrenia, which was the only motivation behind his bizarre behavior leading up to the incident. Yay God?
My point, though, lest I go off on a tangent, is this: This nation of ours is as good as we make it. That is not something we can go to war to achieve. It is something that comes of every day acts of citizens. So no, I’m not thanking the military today, at least not any more than I’m thanking each and every person in America (including the “non-Citizen” Native Americans who have contributed to our society, and the poor people who were treated as less-than-human in the more disgraceful part of our history) for all that they do to promote our Republic.
Honestly, I’m hoping that someday, we can be an actual Democracy rather than a Representative Republic.
Now, enjoy those fireworks!