I don’t remember a time when there were so many revolutions (or whatever you choose to call them) happening around the world, so many uprisings of ordinary people against the behavior, policies, strictures, etc. of their governments. Yes, I know that some of these involve millennium-old sectarian or ethnic hostilities burbling to the surface as long-standing strong men lose their grip or are driven from same by foreign intervention. And some of are the result of countries, created out of thin air to meet the needs of colonial powers, which produced very strange bedfellows, not unlike some of the recent developments in our own industry :-)But whatever’s going on, let’s not forget that revolutions are messy, given to wild swings of popular opinion, and often needful of help from others at critical junctures in order to avoid the worst possible outcomes and perhaps, just perhaps, to arrive at more positive ones.
Our own revolution certainly was messy. We owe a great deal to the perhaps less than altruistic help we received from the French at a critical juncture. And our democracy, our efforts to “form a more perfect union,” remain a work in progress these hundreds of years later.
Today we celebrate our independence. We thank those who sacrificed and are sacrificing right now to protect us from “enemies, foreign and domestic.” But we also rail against our government, yell at one another over the really huge differences in how we see the issues of the day, and yes, we take to the streets to protest. It was street demonstrations and protests of every flavor that ended segregation, brought about many of the civil rights we hold dear, ended the war in Viet Nam. We’ve also taken to the streets to show our support for one another at times of crisis. And while most of our demonstrations and protests have been peaceful, and our laws support our rights of assembly, we all know that even here the line has been crossed, that violence has never been far away, and that civility has sometimes been lost to the anger of the crowd.
Today’s world is far more complex than when we fought our own revolution and even more complex than when my generation was determined to integrate schools, increase civil rights, and end the war in Viet Nam. None of these messy, loud, in the streets demands for freedom and democracy and civil rights and so much more were played out on Twitter or YouTube. The whole world may have been watching these later events, but they were doing so via nightly news cycles with professional journalists not much given to hyperbole — unlike today’s infotainment and so-called news channels. I can just imagine with what histrionics CNN’s “Situation Room” would have reported the American Revolution.
Our Founding Fathers had the gift of time and privacy to debate and consider, write and rewrite, our Constitution and so much more. They were highly educated men — yes, all white, all men, all from similar backgrounds with similar educations — who gave us an amazing foundation by taking the road never travelled before in the creation of a new nation. Can you just imagine how difficult it would be to birth the USA now, in this always on/always connected/real-time world? I for one am very thankful, on this Independence Day, that we were lucky enough to have our own revolution under cover of primitive communications. With all of these points in mind, I’m prepared to cut those who would follow us into their own version of multi-cultural democracy a little slack.