A few weeks ago I spent a whirlwind two days in Washington, D.C. for a work conference. I knew I wouldn’t have much free time, so I decided to spend the few hours I did have doing things I’d never done in DC before. After my meetings were over I decided to walk around the Tidal Basin, swooning over all the monuments all lit up at night.
Mr. Lincoln was a very popular stop with crowds of people everywhere. I only spent a few minutes here and kept wandering, past the Korean War monument, and the Vietnam Memorial. I stopped at the Martin Luther King monument and listened to a tour guide talk about Dr. King’s life and his dedication to civil and human rights. I walked through the memorial to FDR and his political policies, and kept wandering around the Tidal Basin towards the Jefferson Memorial, my favorite. It was pretty late by the time I got there, and I had the place almost to myself.
Carved into the wall of the memorial are several quotes, but this one hit me square in the gut:
I am not an advocate for frequent change in laws and constitutions. but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered, and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society remain even under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
Of late, there have been a lot of political upheavals on better gun control and policy, LGBQT rights, issues surrounding race and ethnicity, religious freedoms, women’s rights to determine their own healthcare needs…and I can’t help but think that our Founding Fathers are shaking their collective heads, somewhere. Jefferson knew that government must evolve as humanity progressed, so I am baffled at the argument that it should not because that’s not what the constitution intended. Wrong. The constitution is a living, breathing, CHANGING document, as it should be, as we as a collective citizenry are constantly changing, evolving, and becoming more enlightened than our “barbarous ancestors” who didn’t provide protections and established individuality for women, people of color, and the “other.” We know better, and we should campaign for better, not for status quo.
I have been thinking about activism a lot lately, and the more I think about it the more I get this sinking feeling in my gut that it is time for me to act; and that scares me a little, it’s outside my comfort zone. But if I don’t–if we don’t–actively work towards a more inclusive, safer, more peaceful world, who will? Watching so much fear and hate and violence and Drumpism fill the media, I just…I can’t sit still anymore. For my fellow Americans, as you celebrate your independence over the weekend, perhaps spend a little time thinking about those who have gone before you to grant you the freedoms you enjoy, and how can you help those who are coming along with you, or behind you, to enjoy similar freedoms in their lives.