When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to evaluate the political bands that have connected them with another, and to assess their place among the other countries of the earth, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that they should declare how the principles of their founding call them to a greater good even beyond the understanding of the founders.
Those who came before us said they held these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal, and were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—even as they refused those rights to the people whose lands and lives they had stolen.
We declare the self-evident truth to be that all people—not just property-owning white men, not just citizens, not just people who look like the founders or share their lineage, not just people who speak English, not just people in “good neighborhoods”—are created equal and are endowed by their creator with the inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, community, agency, and belonging.
As our founders said, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to demand change, and to institute new laws and practices and organizing its powers based on principles that seem most likely to affect the safety and happiness of everyone. It is the right of the people to tear the house down and rebuild, to demand a better representation of ourselves in those whom we elect to govern us.
The founders said we shouldn’t change government lightly because when we do people suffer. Yet, when we change too slowly people suffer as well—and for far longer. The monuments to white nationalism that scar our cities remind us that we cannot simply wait for change to happen or expect that everything will work out. Neither can we afford to blindly trust our elected officials to choose our rights over their power. A healthy nation and a healthy government require that we the people pay attention, ask hard questions, work for justice, build systems that offer independence and interdependence for all, and carry the compassionate burden of belonging that will require deep can costly change of all of us.
Those who founded this nation came as colonists, not collaborators. Some were fleeing oppression; some came in the name of King George to conquer and capitalize. In their quests, they had little regard or respect for those who were already here—those who had lived on the land for generation after generation. Then, those who had come in search of life and liberty for themselves forced other people into enslavement, choosing prosperity over humanity. When the wealth and power of the colonies grew to a point that they no longer wanted to share it with Great Britain, they proclaimed a unilateral declaration of independence that had little regard for anyone other than themselves. They fashioned magnificent language to rise up against tyranny, unfair laws, lack of representation, immigration control, limitation of land ownership, biased control of the courts, tax laws that favored the rich, and human rights abuses, but the freedom they envisioned was for them, not for everyone. They were blind to the violence of their own privilege.
As we mark the anniversary of the signing of the document, we must choose to not acquiesce to the inherited and persistent blindness that has entrenched systems of racism and discrimination that have prioritized law and order over life and liberty. The empty claims that we are the “greatest nation on earth” are no more than adolescent bravado that belie the truth that we are not the nation we claim to be, no matter how loud we shout, “USA.”
The list of grievances that fomented a revolution among the insurgents who founded this nation have become common practice today, in part because our love of independence—of standing on our own—has caused us to lose sight of the power of the common good. True independence cannot stand on the back of someone who does not share in it. To say that all people are created equal and all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is to say we are interdependent.
The course of human events demands that, if we are to be the nation we have described ourselves to be, we must fight for the fundamental rights of all so that no one falls victim to unfair laws, draconian immigration control, economic systems that limit who can own property, gerrymandered districts that limit representation, blatant voter suppression, militarized police departments, a broken justice system that falls most heavily upon people of color, tax laws that favor the rich and engender poverty, and human rights abuses within our own borders.
Therefore, we the people who make up the United States of America—however we got here, solemnly publish and declare our free and interdependent right to grow beyond our founders and follow their words to conclusions they could not see. We pledge our interdependence—our connectedness. We embrace the burden of our past, of the things done and left undone that have created a country that has fallen short of liberty and justice for all. We accept the consequences of the actions of our ancestors, and pledge to move beyond slogans to the good and difficult work of reconciliation and reparation. We pledge to move beyond our privilege, our pain, our complacency, and our exhaustion. We claim the right to create communities, foster economic justice, stop going to war, and wage peace.
And for the support of this declaration, let us mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.