I began this 4th of July thinking about the Declaration of Independence and the anger and frustration of a population that was so fed up they declared freedom from England and formed their own union to chart their destiny. The colonist knew this would mean war with one of the greatest military powers on earth, but it did not stop them. Most interesting about this period is that these same rebels, having great love for England, did not want to dissolve their ties but felt they had no choice because of the unacceptable behavior of the British Parliament and Monarchy.
Looking back on this time and reflecting on the impact the decision to revolt had on the lives of the founding generation, I wonder if I would have stood with the insurgents? I ask, where should I stand today? I know that as a Black man I could have easily stood against the colonist in a personal effort to break my bonds of slavery, but I hope that I would have the experience of Crispus Attucks to see inklings of something worth defending and the vision of Phillis Wheatley to see the new nation as Columbia, inspiring ideals of freedom. It is hard for me to know. Both sides were seriously flawed on the point of human bondage. However, even with this huge failing it is clear in the epic story of the Revolution there was an underdog to pull for and a great power to fear. Our nation’s story of independence is a chapter in a larger narrative of empire. England, having fashioned a vast domain with reach into Asia, Africa and the Americas, was simply acting in its “national interest.” For the colonist it was a question of self determination and independence from a foreign power. But that was then and this now.
As I think about our past, I must think about our present and I find myself anguished over who we have become. Today the United States is the greatest military power on earth. Our nation exports our culture via music movies and other media around the globe. We dominate global economics as the center of finance and the world’s largest economy. We push our political agenda through economic policies and our more than 700 military bases that ring the globe. We are no longer the little guy looking to fight our way free from a government an ocean away. We have taken the place of those we fought against. Every era has its empires. Today it’s the U.S. and others fight to free themselves from us. Knowing this, where should I stand?
There is the idea that Americana is the good empire. It is true that much of history can be told as a chronicle of empires; their conquest, dominance, decline and rise of the next. They bring order to chaos spreading common ideas and enforcing common law. Some of humanities’ greatest advancements in all disciplines were made under imperial umbrellas. But with the good comes the bad. Empire building means political domination. To dominate a people one must defeat them in war or scare them into submission. As a consequence, empires are born in the blood of rebels and patriots. The U.S. Empire is not an exception. We field our armies to forward or protect our “national interest” in the same way Great Britain, Rome, Egypt and other empires fielded theirs. Our foreign policy today is endless war. Conquest is the process of empire building and the U.S. is on the march. Perhaps we are not as brutal as the Romans or the Ottomans, but there is no such thing as a good empire. Ask the families of the dead who fell fighting for self determination and to protect their homes from the invader. In Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S.A is attempting to build nations and forcing the people of countries around the globe to follow politics in line with U.S. foreign policy. Our interference is in direct contradiction to our own Declaration of Independence. “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
So where do I stand? This Independence Day I state with a heavy heart that on the global questions of war and peace, the country I love is on the wrong side of history. I stand with the people of the United States; the poor and disenfranchised, the soldiers, veterans, and military families. I stand with those at home who are most negatively affected by U.S. war policy. I stand with the people of the world who struggle to throw off the yoke of U.S. empire building. I stand in resistance to my nation’s foreign policy. We are now the empire builder and aggressor pursuing our “national interest” rather than forwarding the ideals that founded our nation. The light in the city on the hill is growing dim as the world watches a great nation lose its way. I challenge those who love this country to help extinguish the drive for world empire and build a new light of freedom. A light that will lead our nation to uphold the truth that all people are created equal and have the right to self determination. It is within our ability to stop this madness and shape a better world. Let us remember the ideals of the revolution. Let us not falter. Let us take action.