Those two pictures to me are the embodiment of two incredibly powerful human moments. A man, a solitary man, with a briefcase in his hand, likely coming from work, stands in front of a line of massive tanks. Are you going to run me over? Is the awesome and arbitrary power of the state going to crush me? I will show you the power of the human spirit. Crush me, but you will not crush my will. you have a tank but I have my human spirit. Can you imagine the fear he must have felt, but also the courage–the courage to stand up, with no hope of victory or even making a difference, and say no. And because there was a photographer there, we are privy to this riveting, wondrous moment of history. This man should be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
The second is the Declaration of Independence. At a time when it is fashionable to belittle and revise the significance of the founding of the American republic, we could lose sight of just how revolutionary these words were and what a turning point in human history they signified. My God, this was absolute heresy at the time. Just read the words. “We hold these truths to be self-evident”,– they don’t need any justification– “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights”– we are all born with certain rights that can’t be taken away from us– “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”– the purpose of government is to secure the rights we inherently have and can’t give up, we, the people create these governments and a government is only legitimate if it is based on our collective consent.
Can you imagine the effect of those words in a world where royal families still ruled most of the population? Where people were placed into classes by the nature of their birth? Where you could be deprived of your life, your property, if you were even allowed to have any, and your freedom, arbitrarily at any time by the rulers of most countries. What an astounding idea, that all people have the same rights, to freedom, to property, to self-determination. And that the sole purpose of government is to secure those rights. It is still to me the single most powerful idea and ideal ever expressed. our souls should soar at this simple but majestic invocation of each individual’s worth and power. And we need to live up to this legacy, we need to take our democracy and country seriously and ensure that it lives up to this ideal and purpose.