Friday, July 04, 2008

Thoughts for Independence Day

     In 1978 an offshoot branch of the American Nazi Party decided to march through Skokie, Illinois, a small village in suburban Chicago that has a sizable Jewish population, many of whom were Holocaust survivors.  As such, the village of Skokie refused to allow the Nazis to march through their community.       Understandably so.  Few people in the world today would still support a regime and an idea that caused such terror and destruction and loss of life.  Yet the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) intervened on behalf of the marchers and instigated a court case, in which it was decided by the United States Supreme Court that the presence of the swastika would be deliberate provocation of the community.  However the court allowed the march to continue because the Village of Skokie failed to prove that that provocation would incite violence.  The most the most striking aspect of the case, however, is the fact that a Jewish lawyer argued on behalf of the marchers.  Think about that.  A Jewish lawyer argued to allow Nazis to march in a largely Jewish community.  The Supreme Court upheld the First Ammendment in the face of massive unpopularity.  So why is that such a big deal?  Why am I prattling on and on about an incident that has, for the most part, been relegated to the dustbin of American history?  Because it is an amazing embodiment of the power of the ideas that America is built on.  That the idea of the right to assemble regardless of belief is so powerful as to make a man support a group that aims to exterminate his people from the face of the earth.  No matter what you might think makes America great, it's people, it's industry, Cedar Point, whatever, the one thing that makes America so amazing is the strength and power of the ideas that it is based on.  
    Those words and ideas put down on paper 232 years ago have been the moral guiding force that have lead our nation into and through its greatest trials and moments.  And I am not even talking about all the great wars and military actions that our brave young men and women have fought over the years, I am talking about all of the domestic conflicts that we've had.  The squabbles and arguments that we've had in our own house.  The riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968.  The colonization of Cuba.  The events surrounding the American Revolution.  Events as far flung and unconnected as these are but beads strung together by the ideas of freedom from tyranny, freedom of the press, the right to a fair trial, etc, etc.  The best part about these ideas are that they extend to everyone.  When arrested, one is read their Miranda Rights no matter if you are from Colorado or New Hampshire or Oxaca or Liaoning or the Great Rift Valley.  It doesn't matter.  You can vote for President, Senator, school board, or city comptroller if you make millions of dollars as the head of a major corporation and own your own Gulfstream.  And you can vote for all of those things if you make $16,000 each year and you are using food stamps to buy milk for your children.  That's one of the greatest things about this country.  It doesn't matter your station, your family name, your income level, you are extended the same rights and privileges.  Kathy Lee Gifford's vote counts as much as Jeff Conroy's of Steamboat Springs, CO does.  That's a powerful idea and powerful in practice.
    It's these ideas that have always formed the basis of our society, despite the fact that they are sometimes perverted for personal gain.  In the end, it's why Bri Guy is in Iraq right now, it's why your dad set explosive charges in tunnels in Vietman, and why your grandfather parachuted into France in 1944.  All in support of things like equality and basic human rights.  These ideas led them into places and situation that they would normally not be in, and led them to excel.  The bottom line is this: we are up against a sometimes scary and formidable enemy in today's world.  There are people who believe so strongly in their cause that they are willing to strap explosives to their bodies to further their cause.  They are willing to do things that make no sense in order to promote their beliefs.  They are under the influence of some very strong ideas.  But when it comes right down to it, our ideas and concepts and belief are as strong as theirs.  And so we will go on and we will persevere and we will thrive.  Because of the strength of our conviction.  Because of the strength of the ideas that mind us together as a people.  And that is the most impressive and beautiful thing of all.  
Happy Independence Day everyone!

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