No sooner had the Fourth of July passed than I received an email from the National Catholic Worker about a violent confrontation on the Fourth. As former Des Moines, Iowa, Catholic Worker Kirk Brown reported, "Spurned on through the recognition of humanity in the suffering of war victims, torture victims, and victims of corporate economics; four people celebrated independence in protest at Raccoon River park and Lyons Park in West Des Moines and Urbandale on the fourth of July. One person handed out leaftets explaining why a person might be opposed to military recruitment. One person dressed as a Guantanamo detainee carried a sign asking, "Liberty for Torture?" Another waved an adbusters American flag which has corporate logos where the stars typically are."
Kirk described how at one location they "were actually chased down by handfuls of people who yelled, cursed and threatened them with physical death." Kirk described another park where, "Groups of 10-12 people formed perimeters around the protesters at Lyons Park some asking questions and having conversation, others in the groups surrounding the four protesters would holler and all of that. One young man got so angry that he lunged upon a protester and a few minutes of utter chaos ensued."
There were also moments of more compassionate responses and interaction, including a sister and mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who told the protesters that they respected what they were doing. But what was so striking for me was that here, on the very day in which our nation celebrates the day in which it declared independence in 1776, people could not only forget that to which our liberty is bound, but they could also bear such animosity towards others who were merely exercising the very freedoms for which many struggled in the early days of our nation.
Perhaps we, as a nation, have become far too dependent upon the very things that lead to suffering and death and the destruction of the very environment that sustains us. And perhaps it is time to declare our independence from the very things that hinder us from being fully human and living together in our common humanity, with enough for all. So I propose a NEW Declaration of Independence - Independence from (GO AHEAD; add some of your own):
It is high time that we declare our independence from those in power who have woven a web of deceit that blinds people such as those who slandered and attacked a group of humble people trying to bring light to the darkness, speaking truth to power. As Kirk said in the closing line of his story, "It is with the refugee, the torture victim and the poor that our liberty is bound, and it is them; the other, that we are free for."
May we continue to speak the truth that is bound to the compassionate heart until the day that the chains are broken and there is no more suffering.