by Ron Fullwood
July 4, 2006 at 00:14:38
On July 5, 1852 fugitive slave Frederick Douglass gave a speech he titled: "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? To Douglass, young America needed to heed the fine declarations that he felt were rightly used against the tyranny of England, and apply them to the country's own conduct and attitude toward Blacks who were, at the time, legally enslaved by white Americans.
It's difficult for me to reflect on the beginnings of our great nation and not feel conflicted about the way that slavery was allowed to continue, even as our founders were ratifying the Declaration of Independence with their signatures. To me, the celebration of that important document is incomplete without including the 14th and 15th amendments which promised citizenship for Blacks and the right to vote, as well as the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act which backed up the laws with the force of the federal government.
"Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us." said Douglass in his speech to the women in the anti-slavery group, "The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine." he spoke.
Douglass' wasn't condemning the American people as much as he was admonishing them to remember that the nation hadn't yet applied their fine words about liberty, freedom, and justice to the negroes they allowed its white citizens to hold in permanent servitude without any rights of citizenship at all.
"This Fourth of July is yours, not mine," he said "You may rejoice, [I] must mourn. What to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour"
It is, in fact, this very contradiction that many Americans ignore as they both celebrate our nation's independence from tyranny and oppression, and continue to tolerate the tyranny and oppression that our nation has fostered in Iraq with our invasion and occupation.
How can we continue to boast of the genius of our own past liberty from the imperialism of the British monarchy while our nation's military is actively oppressing the citizens of Iraq with tightened occupations in Baghdad and Ramadi? How can some Americans be so sanguine about our nation's revolutionary past, even as they blindly accept the repression of those in Iraq who are at the mercy of the false authority we fostered under the heavy hand of our military?
As Americans celebrate here at home with flags and fireworks, where is the freedom to be found in Iraq? Where is the freedom in our deadly checkpoints restricting free movement of Iraqis in their own country? Where is the freedom to be found in the face of our weapons that are pointed directly at the heart of the Iraqi community in the continuing, U.S. led, search and destroy missions?
Where is liberty to be found under our perpetual occupation? Where is liberty's refuge from the 'collateral' killings of innocent Iraqis that our government and military obscures behind talk of 'rolling back the insurgency' and 'defeating terrorism? Where is the liberty in the massive round-ups and detentions of innocent Iraqi men, women and children?
Where is the justice in the summary executions in the field by our soldiers of 'suspected' insurgents? Where is the justice in the indefinite imprisonment of Iraqis (many for years) without charges, without access to evidence, and without access to counsel?
Over 2500 American soldiers' lives have been sacrificed for Bush's illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed in the initial U.S. led invasion which promised "shock and awe' for the television warriors who watched the spectacle unfold. Tens of thousands more would lose their lives as a result of the chaos and unrest the Bush regime had initially encouraged with taunts of "bring them on", and the bluster that "we're fighting them over there, so we won't have to fight them over here."
The world was witnessed to the installation of a U.S. interim puppet authority, and a sham election overseen by our invading military forces. That led to yet another sham authority, using the influence of our occupying army to lord over Iraqis and parcel their resources out to the highest bidder.
Now Americans are being held hostage to an occupation that they are saying (in a clear majority), must end by a date certain. Notwithstanding a reversal of the political balance of Congress, the Bush regime is determined to 'stay the course' and keep the America's jack-boot planted firmly on the Iraqis' necks. But, despite their increasing opposition to the occupation, many Americans will still celebrate our own nation's independence, mindless of the contradiction.
Imagine America under occupation from a foreign power; foreign troops controlling movements, overseeing elections, muckraking, marauding.
"To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy." Douglass spoke. "Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England toward the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so;" he continued, "but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men's souls."
They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men." he said. "To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.
Like Douglass then, Americans are challenged today to make the bold principles of liberty, freedom, and justice embodied in the Declaration mesh with our actions abroad, especially in Iraq.
"You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare," Douglass said in his July 5th address, "that you "hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;" and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, "is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose."
Those who are satisfied to celebrate the signing of the Declaration as a reflection of our nation's rejection of England's tyranny, yet, continue to support and justify the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq cannot be taken seriously. In our occupation, we contradict the most basic of our nation's values of freedom, liberty, and democracy.
With our theft of the industry and resources of Iraq, our country has joined the long line of oppressors and brutal opportunists who have sought to dominate that region for greed and power. History will wonder at our arrogance, and at our inability to restrain our military and its agents from pursuing ambitions far outside of the mandate of our constitution or conscience.
Until our government releases their grip on Iraq, this Fourth of July is theirs, not mine.
Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price