Today — "in the course of human events" (momentous and minute) — "we the people" of these United States of America add yet another candle to our nation's proverbial "birthday cake." As our national community commences its 235th year of independence, let us reflect upon where we have been, where we are, and where we are going — and remind ourselves how "interdependent" we were, we are and we shall always be "in Order to form a more perfect Union."
Along with other milestones in history and "history in the making," we the Dears intend to observe this touchstone with more "cerebration" than "celebration" — sharing the experience with family, friends and community. Any eventful Independence Day always includes a "'Dexterous' toast to progress" recited at the changing tides. Along this "thoughtway," stones are added to the Waterside "cairn" to indicate we have come this far.
We tend to avoid the distraction of fireworks. Admitting disfavor about punctuating such occasions with pyrotechnics once prompted an allegation that this attitude was "un-American." While the tone of that indictment implied lightheartedness — such finger-pointing has been more heavy-handed (and directed both left and right). When ad hoc, ad hominem accusations permeate the civic discourse ad nauseam, incivility impedes the public process. It begs the questions: What defines being or seeming "American" and "un-American"? What does it mean to be a "true American"? And just who gets to decide?
Review of an interview aired on a cable news program might offer an interesting observation (and perspective) — and remind American leaders (and followers) to be mindful about "leading by example." The "time" was spring 2003 during the hopeful interval of the Iraqi Freedom "campaign" — after the initial chaos of the "liberation" and before the civic turmoil which would follow. The "space" somewhere in a Baghdad market district.
The camera crew captured the opening scene of an American reporter during a "man on the street" interview approaching a group of Iraqi men drinking glasses of tea and talking politics. One of the men was so conversant in the English language he became the group's spokesperson; however, his counterparts clearly agreed with his comments, interactively complementing (and complimenting) his views during the ensuing discussion.
When questioning the men about the future of Iraq, they were generally optimistic. However, when specifically asked about the importance of establishing a new Iraqi constitution as a "first step towards democracy," the man took issue — giving the young reporter an American history lesson in the process. He suggested establishment of municipal government, then holding a "town meeting" forum. Let chosen representatives sort out the details of a national constitution during conventions but let us organize our local government now, he insisted.
When asked his rationale, the man gestured to the devastated surroundings. As the camera panned, he declared, "Look around you. We need somebody to complain to!" He went on to explain the need for somebody in authority to be there to listen to their complaints, to initiate action, to be accountable for community and neighborhood issues (and ideas) and to help better communicate as a community. His compatriots enthusiastically agreed that democracy and "community in the work" begins close to home. Their primary focus concerning the commonweal of the people rather than possessions or property — as the scene closed, the conversation continued.
As we the Waterside people of Newburyport commence a new fiscal year — there is "certain knowledge" that our own municipal government will hold public forums and meetings on "all matters and things" — from pedagogy (opening up a "new school of thought") to paid parking downtown to the "boundless ambitions" for progress in our own "piece of paradise" in these "United and happy States" of America. "We do of further grace" enthusiastically plan to attend these and other opportunities to come to a "meeting of the minds" — and bring "mere motion" to "forward movement" (to lift an uplifting phrase from Mayor Holaday's inaugural address). Hope to see you there and then.
(The unabridged and annotated version of this Viewpoint [conversation piece] can be reviewed at Comity.org — where the reader is invited to SMILE [Seek More Information/insight Logged/linked Electronically] and join the ongoing conversation at the Virtual Wolfe Tavern.)
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Ken and Dominique Dear are "assigns" to a "certain lot of land with a dwelling house" in the Waterside community of Newburyport.