Listening for the Reverberations of the Liberty Bell
I admit to feeling a bit out of sorts and not quite in the spirit of ’76 on this Independence Day. Possibly because much of my usual markers for the holiday have been disrupted this year. The holiday falls midweek. I’ve already been very much off-schedule the last few weeks, coping with the passing of my father and everything that needed to be done in his abssence. Then, to top it off, my small town moved its fireworks display from the holiday itself to the previous Saturday night. A fact I was unaware of until the display was nearly over. I can hear and see them from my house, especially if I go outside. I just assumed the initial portion was enthusiastic neighbors beginning the celebration early.
All of that has me thinking – how did we get so far from the enthusiasm for our only REAL national holiday? Every year, it seems to be less and less about celebrating American exceptionalism and more and more about just getting an extra day off in the summer to play.
The usual objections will now be raised. It’s because of the divisiveness that invades civic life these days.
Maybe. But we’ve fought a Civil War before, and regained our Americanism anyway. And I’m not sure that the argument holds about the “divisiveness” being a new and different thing. Yes, we have the Coasts vs. Flyover Country conflict. Which isn’t really ALL that different from the complaints of New England in the late 18th and early 19th century that Virginia dominated the executive branch. While they viewed themselves as the true cradle of the revolution. And, yes, we’ve entered a phase of civic life where it seems that the end of one election cycle is also the beginning of the next. I would posit that if it matters SO MUCH who the next president is – the executive has too much power. If it matters SO MUCH which party controls the Senate – the Federal congress has too much power. If it matters SO MUCH whether the Supreme Court is dominated by Conservatives of Liberals – the Supreme Court has too much power. Probably because it is having to act as a counterweight to an executive and legislative branch that both have too much power.
The Revolution itself really WAS a homegrown affair. It started in parlors and inns. And the resulting Republic followed that model. Local governments were supposed to be its backbone. Now we want the federal government to step in and make our neighbors do what we want them to do.
Maybe what we really need, in order to get back to a real Spirit of ’76, is to think small. And to revive civic spirit. One neighborhood, one township, one small town at a time. Rather than abdicating our responsibility for self-rule, then getting angry when our rulers do things to benefit only themselves, we need a return to local participation. Even if that’s just becoming an informed voter. (No, that doesn’t mean watching cable news). Yes, it takes some time. And we don’t all have the skillset, the time, or the wherewithal to run for city council or school board. But we can all do something small. Show up to a meeting. Send our thoughts to the township board on that new proposed subdivision. Help fundraise for a local cause. It’s been said all politics is local. So let’s return to affecting our local politics. We used to know how to do it. We used to understand WHY we should do it. Let’s recover that knowledge.
Only an engaged and alert citizenry can hope to keep its government in check. Reducing the power and influence of state and federal governments is the REAL Spirit of Independence. Only a citizenry that can hear the peal of the Liberty Bell ringing down through the centuries can reclaim its birthright.