As I write my annual Independence Day blog message, I am still reeling from the recent Supreme Court decisions and from the rhythm of mass shootings that now punctuates all our seasons. Despite the current malaise, when I think back to last year at this time I am very grateful — grateful that COVID has receded and that over the last 12 months we at Wesleyan have managed to learn together while supporting others beyond the campus. Last summer at this time I was struggling with my own COVID infection and about to resume working with colleagues on building a ‘safe-enough’ educational environment. What a difference a year makes! Now, I eagerly anticipate the coming semesters, ones that will be filled with creativity, inquiry and exuberance!
But there is time for that. Today we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document of aspiration often used to remind citizens of our promise but also of our failure to live up to our professed values. These are values worth remembering and celebrating! As an anonymous writer (identified only as a “Black Whig”) said just a few years after the document was signed, “And now my virtuous fellow citizens, let me entreat you, that, after you have rid yourselves of the British yoke, that you will also emancipate those who have been all their life time subject to bondage.” I take this quote from columnist Jamelle Bouie, who wrote “The story of the changing meaning of the Declaration should be a reminder…that we had more than one founding — and far more than just one set of founders.” Perhaps each generation needs a new set of founders!
Here’s one of those re-founders, the poet Walt Whitman. I Hear America Singing:
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.