On July 4, 1963, I was sitting comfortably reading the Declaration of Independence. (I was just about to complete my Ph.D dissertation in US history, on “The 1919 Race Riots,” and loved reading the facsimile copy of the Declaration that the NY Times publishes every year as a full-page insert.) The phone rang. Two friends of mine had just been arrested in Baltimore at a major “sit-in” to end racial segregation in a Baltimore amusement park – Gwynn Oak. And oh, the sit-in would be repeated the following Sunday, July 7. Could I send money for bail
I was living in Washington DC, Baltimore was my home town, and in the ‘50s, I went to my high-school and college proms at Gwynn Oak. Till 1954, the public schools were segregated, and Johns Hopkins had exactly one Negro student in each of the four undergrad classes. I had written against racial segregation, but in those days I certainly lived inside it.
I gulped, and said “of course,” and sent the money.
And then I sat there shvitzing. Here I was reading the Declaration, and my friends were living it. My hear was beating --- “Come on, Waskow! What’s the point?!!”
So I went to Baltimore on July 7, joined the sit-in with my friends who, unexpectedly, found a way actually Here’s my sense fwhat we face today and what wee need to the park, and just as a mob of white segregationists found us and was about to kill my friends and me – got saved by the cops arresting us.
And came away shaken into a new place in my life. Historian? OK. Commentator on contemporary public policy? OK. Activist? Ummmm, ummmm, OK. YES, OK!! Arrested some 25 times since then.
Now I see the Declaration as a living document, not locked away in history books or in archaic typography on a page of NYT. Alive, changing, demanding new thought, new action. Transformed by Frederick Douglass, by the women of Seneca Falls, by Emma Goldman. Transformed by the world we live in, by the last three years of a would-be fascist US President. Unimaginable in 1963. All too real in 2019.
So I am willing to rewrite it and far more important, re-do it.
So here’s my sense of what we believe, what we face, where we need to reach, and what we need to do: With the help of a God Who is not above us but pervades us, breathes us, and Whom we breathe == Arthur
Independence from All Tyranny
For many Americans, the 13-starred Flag of the American Revolution continues to symbolize resistance to tyranny. Below you will find a new “Declaration of Life Intertwined and Independence from Corporate and Governmental Tyranny.” We recommend it for conversation in gatherings this weekend -- gatherings of prayer, of friendship, of political concern -- in advance of the Fourth of July as well as on the Fourth itself and afterward.
"O Beautiful for Patriots' Dream that sees Beyond the Years -- Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by Human Tears! -- America, America, God Amend Thine Every Flaw -- confirm thy Good in Sister/Brotherhood, thy Liberty through Law! America! America! God shed full grace on thee Till selfish gain no longer stain the Banner of the Free!"
A NEW DECLARATION: INTERDEPENDENCE OF ALL LIFE;
INDEPENDENCE FROM ALL TYRANNY
We hold these truths to grow from the life-experience of all Humanity:
That all men and women are created equal in dignity and worth, as necessary and distinctive strands of the great Web of life intertwined, and are through that interdependence endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and responsibilities. That among these are –
- The sharing of Beloved Community throughout our planet, growing through responsible relationships that embody, heal, and uphold that sacred web of life;
- Peace among all peoples;
- Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a life-sustaining, health-sustaining share of Earth’s abundance;
- Honorable jobs with living wages and income, based on livable hours of work;
- A rhythm of work and rest that frees time for family, neighborhood, citizenly involvement, and the spirit;
- Self-government in political, economic, and cultural life, including public support for grass-roots co-ops and democratic elections to govern large corporations and legislatures not controlled by wealth.
We affirm that governments, corporations, and other institutions that have a major impact on the lives of the people are founded solely to secure these rights and uphold these responsibilities, deriving their just powers from the consent of those they govern and whose lives they shape.
We now face a political system contrary to these values, destructive of democracy, and dangerous to the liberty and prosperity of a free people:
The present President and Senate of the United States have both been chosen by minorities of our people, in elections dominated by huge inflows of money from hyperwealthy individuals and corporations; by exclusion of many voters of color, youth, and poverty; by the gerrymandering of many election districts; and by the deliberate covert intrusion of a foreign power.
The result is a President who has poisoned the sacred interwoven Web of Life in which the human race and the American people live and have our being; has tried to shatter the interwoven moral web in which different American individuals and communities serve our common good -- E Pluribus Unum; and has violated crucial provisions of the Constitutional covenant on which our people have agreed -- especially provisions that limit presidential power so as to protect and advance democracy:
By violating the Constitutional provision that no money be taken from the Treasury unless it is appropriated by Congress;
By illegally and unconstitutionally preventing federal officials from obeying subpoenas compelling testimony before Congress and its committees;
By unconstitutionally initiating and carrying on endless wars without a declaration of war by Congress and in violation of the United Nations Charter;
By violating US and international law regarding the welcoming and humane treatment of refugees;
By seeking to destroy health care for millions of Americans;
By destroying and frightening millions of families by deporting hard-working and law-abiding immigrants; by tearing children, even babies, from the arms of their parents; by failing even to keep records that would make possible the reunification of these families -- practices abhorrent to our people and estimable to tyrants only;
By carrying on endless wars and risking new ones without a Declaration by Congress, against international and American law as embodied in the binding treaty of the United Nations Charter, and to the deep detriment of American society;
By acting to destroy all efforts to prevent climate disaster, the scorching of our planet, and the death in extreme floods, droughts, storms wildfires, and newly widespread diseases of millions of human beings -- all in order to secure Hyper-Wealth to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs;
By reinforcing racism in police behavior, in mass incarceration, and in the unequal application of unjust laws;
By inciting hatred and acts of violence against the Black, Muslim, Indigenous, Jewish, and immigrant communities;
By ending protections for pure food, water, and air;
By pursuing the deregulation of banks and other financial institutions, privileging their power and restoring the conditions that led to the disastrous Great Recession of 2008-2009.
Beneath all these specific acts, and encouraging them all, is the power of large corporations -- especially those in banking, the military-industrial complex, health care, and fossil fuels – to dominate many branches and aspects of the American government and deeply damage both American democracy and the American future.
And beneath all these specific acts, and encouraging them all, is the present President's deliberate encouragement and incitement of racism, sexism, and hostility to those who live in poverty, as a diseased strand of American culture, economics, and politics, in such ways as to divide our society, incite violence against racial, religious, and sexual minorities, and thereby help the powerful and wealthy trample on the legitimate needs of the poor and the middle class.
We affirm that to redress these wrongs, it is incumbent upon the American people to undertake nonviolent action through elections, lobbying, free speech, free press, and free assembly in marches, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, and vigils;
And therefore we demand:
I. A Constitutional amendment defining as a right of all human beings the existence of a climate and web of life and viable species that is life-giving, and requiring Congress to pass laws to guarantee that right.
II. A Constitutional amendment defining as rights analogous to those in the Bill of Rights the right of actual full employment with a living income for all on the basis of a 32-hour work week, the right of workers to organize unions, and the right to universal health care.
III. A Constitutional amendment providing that the President of the United States is subject while in office as an individual to provisions of Federal criminal law regarding felonies and civil lawsuits.
IV. A Constitutional amendment requiring that all large corporations that do any business in the United States be periodically and publicly reviewed in seven-year intervals concerning renewal of their charters to do business, by a jury of citizens chosen from the normal panel for civil lawsuits, to ensure and enforce that they are meeting the needs and balancing the interests of their stockholders, workers, customers, the environment, and society as a whole.
V. A Constitutional amendment providing that all persons born in the United States or naturalized as citizens and all persons resident in the United States for seven years or more be registered to vote at birth, naturalization, or upon seven years of residence, and shall be qualified to vote in all elections where they reside upon reaching the age of 18.
Vi. A Constitutional amendment to pay for all election campaigns solely by public contributions by the US or the states, and contributions from natural persons, i.e. actual human beings, under limits set by Congress; and providing that all election districts shall be defined without regard to race, religion, or political affiliation.
VIi. A Constitutional amendment providing that the Constitutional right to bear arms can be regulated by the governments of municipalities and states, in whatever ways seem wisest to them, so long as the manifest intent and effect of the regulation is to protect, not endanger, the health and safety of the public.
VIiI. A Constitutional amendment providing for the full equality and equal rights of women, men, and persons of all genders and sexual orientations, in political and economic life and health decisions, including the availability of birth control to all persons and the right of women to choose abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, and later under conditions honoring health needs of the mother and fetus.
IX. A Constitutional amendment prohibiting the death penalty, the imposition of solitary confinement, and prison sentences of more than 20 years for any crime not involving physical violence.
X. Strong laws to prevent global climate disaster, to swiftly move the US and world economies from fossil-fuel dependence to renewable energy, and to restore and renew a healthy, life-giving climate system for our children and grandchildren as it was for the generations of our parents and grandparents, with a far greater attention to infusing eco-social justice for all into that relationship.
XI. An end to all US military action, overseas military bases, and the use of violence against any person by the military or any other US agency that have not been specifically authorized by Act of Congress, by the Security Council of the United Nations, or by the issuance of a public arrest warrant by a Federal District Court after public pleadings.
XII. Restoration of full Congressional control over declaration or initiation of any war, as well as adherence to the United Nations Charter. Reduction and redirection of US military spending to meet the needs of defense, not corporate subsidies; and the redirection of funds now wasted beyond those needs to meeting the urgent civilian needs of the American people and of poverty-stricken regions of the world.
XIII. Laws encouraging the creation of worker and consumer coops – businesses democratically controlled by their members on the principle of one member, one vote – especially at the grass-roots and neighborhood levels.
XIV. Abolition of all surveillance and collection of any data and metadata concerning any communication from or to any citizen or resident of the United States, without the issuance of a search warrant specifically naming and describing the person to be surveilled and the data to be collected — such warrants to be issued by a regular US District Court and made public no later than 90 days after issuance.
And to the achievement of these goals, with the help of the Holy Interbreathing Spirit of all life, and through our covenant with each other, we pledge our commitment, our nonviolent action, and our sacred honor.
[This Draft Declaration was written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., D.H. L (honoris causa), founder (1983) and director of The Shalom Center <https://theshalomcenter.org> We welcome your comments and suggestions.
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