This year the message has gone out to the young, the disaffected, and the idealistic: Don't hope for too much. "Don't compare us to the Almighty," says the politician, "compare us to the alternative." Ironically, this comes from the same people who told us four years ago: Yes, we can. Thanks to the rhetoric of hope, our President and his party saw their most improbable dreams come true.
When do we get our turn?
This is Independence Day. It's a day to renew our most ambitious hopes and ideals. It's a day to, in the words of Bob Marley, "emancipate ourselves from mental slavery." What did you say? Bold dreams aren't practical? Tell that to the Founding Fathers. Or the Suffragettes. Tell it to Gandhi or King or Mandela.
The fight for independence didn't end in 1776 or the years that followed. We still fight it it every day. It's a political and economic fight. And yes, it's spiritual too -- not necessarily in a supernatural sense, but in the sense that the spiritual is that which is good and beautiful and yet intangible. The spiritual world reaffirms our belief in those things which can't be seen or measured, but which make us who we are -- or would become.
Politics used to be the art of coming together to seek the highest in ourselves, both as individuals and as societies. The 2008 election was a choice between pursuing our best selves or succumbing to cynical self-centeredness. I remain immensely proud of our nation for voting as it did. We voted, not just for a politician or a party, but for our own higher selves.
Yet once again we're being told that the best we can expect is that which the banks and other corporations are willing to tolerate. We're being told that the art of the "liberal" is the art of begging more effectively, of obtaining more crumbs from a powerful person's table than others are willing or able to do.
That's not freedom. It's submission.
On my school notebooks
On my desk and on the trees
On the sands of snow
I write your name
- - Liberty, Paul Eluard
Teachers are being laid off by the hundreds of thousands while phony preachers of education "reform" stigmatize the struggling few who remain. The problem isn't our inability to fire teachers. It's our inability to hire them. It's our ability to keep them by paying a decent wage.
When they savage our education budgets, from elementary school through college and postgraduate studies, they throw all but the most privileged children onto the trash heap.
The Texas Republican Party just declared that "We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills ... critical thinking skills and similar programs ... which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."
They've never heard of Plutarch, who said that "A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled." But then, they and their sponsors don't want fires. They want vessels, containers for the delivery of goods and services to Corporate America. And vessels soon become vassals.
An education is a child's passport to economic and mental independence. It's every child's birthright. It's worth fighting for.
On the pages I have read
On all the white pages
Stone, blood, paper or ash
I write your name
Even a liberal corporatist like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks nothing of trashing an entire library, in violation of police procedures and common decency, when citizens have the audacity to challenge the entrenched order.
That's nothing new: From Alexandria to Zuccotti Park, they've been destroying books for 2,500 years. But if this loss of liberty is as old a story as history itself, so is the fight to recapture it. We've won it against seemingly unbeatable odds many times before.
"The harder the conflict," said Thomas Paine, "the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value."