Americans woke on July 5, 1776, to a long fight for independence.
We declared on July 4, 1776, that all men are created equal, endowed with unalienable rights, and that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. And, in our red-white-and-blue mythology, “we” won those ideals with the conclusion of the American Revolution. But, in reality, the fight for equality and independence continues to this day, and is every bit as much in question in 2019 as it was in 1776.
For the moment, let’s dispel some of the mythology of the Revolution. If you begin stripping away the sentimentality surrounding our view of the Founders, you eventually find wealthy white men who didn’t want to pay their taxes.
The outcome of the war, for them, was fortuitous. But, it was not the realization of the ideals espoused in the Declaration, or the Constitution. In 1783, if you were a landed white man, you’d won independence. If you were anything but white, or if you were poor or a woman, you’d simply had your fealty ripped from the hands of wealthy, white Englishmen in favor of wealthy, white American men.
For those outside the club of wealthy, white, Christian men, advancements toward liberty and equality have been hard-won, slow and begrudgingly granted by the Founders’ heirs.
After the Revolution, America was more than 80 years away from ending slavery and more than 180 years away from the Voting Rights Act. Today, for African-Americans, the promise of equality remains unattained. Just last week the Supreme Court declared federal courts have no grounds to overturn partisan gerrymandering, long a tool of Old South Democrats and latter-day Republicans in watering down the African-American vote.
The systems put in place to ensure African-Americans wouldn’t have a seat at the table after Independence continue to inflict harm today.
According to a Stanford, Harvard and Census Bureau study released last year, in 99 percent of American neighborhoods, black adults earn less than white peers who started at the same socioeconomic level. Those outcomes are profound in Oklahoma, where black households have a median annual income of $36,898, compared to $62,950 for white households, according to 2015 census data.
Hard-fought gains in desegregation have been rolled back by a renaissance of de facto segregation in American cities, where high concentrations of poor black or Hispanic students almost doubled — from 9 to 16 percent — between 2000 and 2014.
It took 137 years for American women to make it from the Revolution to the ballot box. Today, another century hence, American women still are paid 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, and make up less than a quarter of representation in a government we keep telling our children was founded on the principle of “no taxation without representation.”
For women and minorities, equal protection under the law just didn’t apply after the Declaration. Or after Independence. Or after the Equal Protection Clause of 1868. Or even, in reality, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And today, more than 24 decades after the Declaration, we’re still quibbling over the Equality Act, the basic premise of whether or not all people are created equal, and whether or not our laws will apply equally to all.
But, there is perhaps no greater wall between the traditional heirs of American Independence and those from whom true equality and liberty have been withheld, than the growth of an American class structure that looks more like feudal Europe than the mythologized ideals of the Founders.
The top three wealthiest Americans today control more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of Americans combined — an absurd concentration of power that rivals the English aristocracy we claim to have escaped in the Revolution.
The growing disparity of wealth in America, combined with the asinine 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which gave the protections of free speech to political donations, have plunged America from what was nominally a representative republic to what now can only realistically be deemed a plutocracy — rule of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.
With a national debt of $22 trillion (and growing, at an obscene pace), $750 billion a year in military spending, and a tax code that gives handouts to billionaires and corporations at the expense of the working class and poor, Americans today are every bit as servile to the military-industrial complex and large corporations in general as the colonists ever were to Britain and its aristocracy.
More than 240 years after the Revolution, the average American today — even if you don’t bear the burden of being a minority, a woman or a member of the LGBTQ community — is arguably underrepresented at a level worse than that faced by American colonists in 1776.
It is July 5th. It is the morning after Independence. And today, 243 years after that first Independence Day, America remains an ideal unrealized. The fight continues to realize America’s potential, the fight to win independence and equality for all. It is the morning after Independence. On which side will you fight?