Desire for freedom infectious

Published 12:39 am Sunday, July 5, 2015

This weekend, our nation celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence and its freedom from Great Britain.

Happy 239th birthday, America.

The Fourth of July is the kind of holiday in which the celebrations just don’t seem to do justice to the gravity of what Independence Day really means.

If you think about it, we eat hotdogs and burgers, play yard games, watch fireworks and get a day off of work. But how much thought is really given to the fact that an 8-year-long war and a nearly 20-year resistance was the starting point to get us here.

A quote from historian David Armitage’s book, “The Declaration of Independence: A Global History,” says, “The American Revolution was the first outbreak of the contagion of sovereignty that has swept the world in the centuries since 1776. Its influence spread first to the low countries and then to the Caribbean, Spanish America, the Balkans, West Africa and Central Europe in the decades up to 1848…. Declarations of independence were among the primary symptoms of this contagion of sovereignty.”

Likening the Thirteen Colonies’ rejection of the British monarchy to an epidemic that swept the globe just sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?

If American colonists could defeat a centuries-old empire, what other oppressed people could do the same? The answer? A lot.

There have been so many people throughout history who have stood up for civil rights, women’s rights and basic human freedoms and I wanted mention a few in honor of the freedom that I have to do so.

Keeping with the theme of Independence Day, Thomas Paine was an English-American philosopher and activist whose writings were a catalyst for people to take up the cause to fight against British tyranny. His most popular writing, “Common Sense,” posed an argument as to whether colonists should pursue independence from Britain. The pamphlet was extremely popular since it was written in a way average citizens could understand.

Abraham Lincoln, as we all know, declared in his famous Emancipation Proclamation that all slaves would be freed. This was followed up by the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery.

But even before that, abolitionist Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery and pushed for social reform, giving speeches and publishing writings supporting emancipation and suffrage for blacks. He was also a champion for women’s rights as well.

Susan B. Anthony was an American suffragist and civil rights activist who campaigned against slavery and pushed for women to be given the right to vote.

On the other side of the world, Mahatma Gandhi inspired millions of Indians with his non-violent protests against British rule. Nelson Mandela opposed the racist apartheid system in South Africa. In Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against Hitler and the Nazi regime. Benazir Bhutto was the first female president of Pakistan. She helped transform the county’s government from a military dictatorship to a democracy.

The list of historical figures goes on and on. But so does the list of people who are pushing to expand on civil and human rights right now.

Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education, and education in general, is one of those people.

At just 17 years old she is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. A well-deserved honor considering even a Taliban assassination attempt in which she was shot in the face hasn’t slowed her down from continuing to speak out for young people’s rights to seek an education.

Just recently, the United States took a huge step forward for civil rights last week when the Supreme Court declared same-sex couples have a right to marry in all 50 states.

That decision, while long called for by activists all over the county, was brought to fruition thanks to James Obergefell and John Arthur, a same-sex couple from Cincinnati, who wanted legal federal recognition of their marriage in their home state. Arthur was terminally ill and the couple wanted Obergefell to be listed as surviving spouse on the death certificate.

When Ohio wouldn’t recognize their marriage, the couple filed a lawsuit and after two years of fighting in various levels of the judicial system, the case was won and history was made. Same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states.

That’s nearly 50 years after interracial marriage — a crime once punishable by a prison sentence — became legal in the United States.

I have a great admiration for people who stand up for causes that further the idea that every American is guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Sadly, many have lost their lives on the road to making this country a better place. Many have been and will continue to be persecuted for supporting the idea that all citizens, no matter their race, religion, gender or beliefs, should be treated as equals in this great and free nation of ours.

Let’s hope that, like the contagion of independence more than 200 years ago, the contagion of equality continues to spread until everyone is infected.

 

Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at michelle.goodman@irontontribune.com.