“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This sentence from the Declaration of Independence has inspired heartfelt patriotic feelings in certain quarters for centuries. It shouldn’t. This country’s founding ideals of justice and equality were a lie when they were written in 1776 and are still false today.
For Black America, freedom wasn’t ringing in 1776. We have fought, marched, revolted, begged, and died for the recognition of our humanity, for our rights to education and to vote, for fair housing and jobs, to not be murdered by the police, and more. So much more.
Standing alongside us and building upon our fight are so many other oppressed groups: Women, Indigenous people, the Latinx community, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and more. Our challenges may be different but there is one common truth that connects us all: we are suffering under the thumb of a racist and patriarchal system that threatens our lives and livelihoods.
In an 1850 Independence Day speech, Frederick Douglass, a noted abolitionist and former slave asked: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than any other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim.”
Douglas isn’t alone here: from the suffragists to Dr. King to the Black Panthers: almost every major freedom movement, group, and leader have called America out for its hypocrisy and in some way or another has reworked or rewritten the Declaration so that it rings true for everyone.
The work remains.
This next sentence from the Declaration is far less quotable than the one above, but it speaks to everything re:power is about:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
For too many groups in this country, the government has long been and continues to be destructive: State-sanctioned murders of Black men, women, and children. inadequate and biased healthcare and education systems. The separation of migrant children from their families. Active campaigns against the rights of the LGBTQ community. The continued assault on women’s bodies and choices. The attacks on our safety and happiness continue.
We are tired of it.
Reimagining how our government and economy work, and redefining who holds power, is critical to aligning this country’s purported values and the reality of life for the people who live here. If lasting change is to occur — if all people are to be truly free — we need to work towards once and for all fully dismantling systemic racism, White supremacy, and patriarchal oppression from our current politics and leadership. We have to declare our independence from a system that exploits our identities for political gain and weaponizes our differences and pain to divide us.
We have to challenge any would-be leader whose policy platforms don’t focus on a true rebuilding of this country’s power structure. And we can’t be afraid to tell them: if your policies don’t serve us all, then you aren’t for us and we aren’t for you. Most importantly, we must continue to organize, block by block, city by city. We have to build power locally and nationally, ensuring our leaders reflect our experiences and our needs. And we have to come together to rethink what power looks like beyond election cycles. We have to put our values in action every single day, building on the work of our ancestors and expanding the space that we take up in our communities and the larger society.
Karundi Williams is the Executive Director of re:power, a national training and capacity building organization focused on racial justice. re:power trains primarily Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizers who are reclaiming their power for radical change.