I think the way we tell stories can betray something fundamental about our character. Scholars of nationalism like Sumathi Ramaswamy and Benedict Anderson both argue that the mediums in which we express our national identity – words, songs, maps, monuments, images – convey the fundamental ideas clung to by nationalists.
And in between the sizzling sounds of hot dogs on the grill and the anticipation of pyrotechnics tonight, today is a day wherein America’s national myth is most salient. When i go to the Durham Bulls ballgame tonight, all will be asked to rise and pledge their allegiance to a flag embodying “liberty and justice for all.” We’ll sing an anthem metaphorically tied to this day in 1776, but with poetry actually written during the War of 1812. And, assuredly, someone today will praise the “Founding Fathers” for all that they sacrificed to give us our freedom.
But a suckerpunch of a question begs to be asked.
Because while tonight i’m going to, undoubtedly, relish in the Great American Pastime of eating and watching men chase a ball around a field, i don’t have to worry about my income going to waste on yet another hot dog. 17,000 North Carolinians are now without any kind of unemployment insurance. At my church’s food pantry on Tuesday night, a woman whose Medicaid has been slashed asked for money to cover her rent. The medical expenses were too high without her government’s provision.
Because while tonight i can chit-chat about wedding plans, many of the people whom i love most in this world cannot share in the same legal and religious benefits my male partner and i will with a marriage recognized under the law. A section of DOMA may have been overturned, but Amendment 1 still stands as a barrier denying same-gender couples the rights married hetero couples enjoy.
Because while i have the luxury of a flexible job and means of transport to vote on election day, the push in the NC Legislature to cut early voting, same-day registration, and mandate a Voter ID be shown at the polls will mean thousands of people will be unable to vote. It is an overt suppression of the people’s voice guised under the name of the “Restore Confidence in Government Act.” (Which has a seriously ominous tone to it).
And yet, this government was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all. So the question begging to be asked is: exactly who makes this “all” category for liberty and justice? Who gets to feast at this table of red, white, and blue democratic delights?
Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina.
There are many spheres of action and storytelling in which the people can move to confront these injustices; i’ve written about my experiences with the Moral Monday movement and i stand by the work that the NAACP is doing. Coalitions of people engaging in civil disobedience is a frank and profound confrontation. Yet this is by no means the first time people have marched, peacefully, to confront injustices. The suffragette movement, the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQIA Pride marches, Slut Walks – to name a few – have all used visibility and loud but peaceful protesting to convey their calls for equality.
Yet none of those people are plastered on the banners outside today. Our Founding Mothers don’t have their very own 1776 musical starring the guy who played Mr. Feeney (Abigail Adams ever excepted, of course). Instead, white, socially affluent, cisgendered men who owned property signed a piece of paper that called for a revolution. A revolution that, while politically revolutionary in the scope of nationalist history, did not fundamentally change the power structures at be in the colonies.* These same men were privileged under King George and would continue to enjoy such privileges after the war.
So, in the spirit of Liberty and Justice for All, i wanted to amplify the stories of other Freedom Fighting Founding Parents today. These are the people from whom i claim my nationalist history, people who made profound sacrifices and waged their own kind of war against injustice and oppression. They aren’t perfect, but no one is. What matters to me is how we carry forward the good work they did. This is by no means a complete list – and i invite you, in the comments, to add your own. Who are the people who inspire you to pursue liberty and justice for all?
Fannie Lou Hamer: Instrumental in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 in conjunction with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Fannie Lou Hamer remains one of the most powerful leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. Her speech to the Democratic National Congress was seen as so threatening to the powers at be, then-president Johnson held a press conference at the same time to divert the attention of the media. This attempted erasure of her and the cause for which she stood did not deter her from running for Congress the next year.
Sojourner Truth: Her most famous speech rings with earnest and gut-wrenching truth even today – “Ain’t I a Woman?” Sojourner, an escaped formerly enslaved person, advocated tirelessly for women’s rights despite her exclusion from much of the movement because of her race.
Audre Lorde: Author of two of my most favorite essays of all time, “Uses of the Erotic” and “The Master’s Tools with Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Audre Lorde was a modern-day prophet. Her words on the importance of deconstructing race and gender in tandem still hold true today. She described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” and lifted high the beauty of differences and diversity.
Eilzabeth Cady Stanton: Spearhead of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 and fierce fighter for the 19th Amendment, Stanton also worked in conjunction with the abolitionist movement. She, along with a committee of other women, published the The Woman’s Bible which posed theological challenges to the idea that women must be subservient to men.
Dolores Huerta & Cesar Chavez: Co-founders of the National Farmworkers Association (now the UFW), these two activists propelled the intersectionality of labor rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights to the forefront of justice conversations. My favorite Chavez quote is: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
Coretta Scott King: Though her husband is heralded as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta is not to be underestimated. Her work in civil rights began at Antioch College long before meeting Dr. King – who told her, on their first date, he wanted to wed her. She fundraised for the SCLC, marched with Dr. King, and was in their home when it was bombed during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the wake of his assassination, she carried the cause forward in founding the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Frederick Douglass: Most renowned for the first of his three autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Slave, Written by Himself, Douglass was a fervent advocate for abolition and women’s rights to vote. He took numerous speaking tours and was a prolific writer over the course of his life, working with Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War to eradicate the enslavement of African-American people. [Update: Douglass also wrote a seriously good speech entitled 'What to the Slave is the 4th of July' which is a must-read!]
Mary Daly: My favorite image of Mary Daly is her most iconic portrait: her wielding a battle-axe. A professor of theology at Boston College, a Jesuit institution, Daly was a self-proclaimed “radical lesbian feminist” who advocated for profound change in the Catholic and Christian church as a whole. Her book Beyond God the Father is a foundational text for anyone seeking to study contemporary philosophy, feminist ethics, or theology.
Who would you add to this list?
current jam: ‘we shall overcome’
best thing: strawberries. also, this incredible video.
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*for a further explanation for why the american revolution wasn’t much of a revolution, here is an excellent and informative john green crash course video for you!