Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Love Independence Day? Hug a Writer!

My apologies to those who live outside the United States and do not celebrate...

To all else--Happy Fourth of July!

I hope, as we all enjoy our American traditions of parades, cookouts and fireworks, that we stop a moment to realize that the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4th, 1776, was created by Thomas Jefferson--farmer, future president, and writer. The colonists were grumpy at the way King George and his representatives felt that they had the moral/ethical/imperial right to ignore the colonists's stated concerns about their own governance. I can imagine many gripe sessions around colonial tables (having lived through many similar gripe sessions about the political whims of my own era). But Jefferson took these gripes, distilled them to the most flagrant and egregious of the King's sins, and then presented them to be signed by a group of men who knew that by signing the document, they were committing to living free from England's rule, or dying under her boot heel.

The Declaration was not the first document to change the political winds. In our European history, the Magna Carta came first. And the Rosetta Stone was writing that changed the world and opened our eyes to writers of cultures long ago forgotten. The Bible spread from one small area in the Middle East around the world. There are more, but I want to focus on the documents that have created the United States of America: The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, and The Constitution.

These are the keys to the United States of America and its commitment to freedom. They have been captured in the written word for all the world to see. One of the important keys, perhaps the most important is our constitutional guarantee to freedom of speech, and the corollary free press. Without a free press we might live in a one-note world (decided by the government du jour). With that free press, we live in a world where information, misinformation and hyperbole comes at us in a steady stream (this post included). I tend to believe the Founding Fathers decided on the necessity of a free press somewhere between signing the Declaration and ratifying the Constitution (a document authored by committee, not by one man). It was, after all, easier to agree that George's way was wrong than it was to decide the "right" way to proceed. It took almost eleven years to get the constitution written and ratified (and we still had to amend it several times over). Yes, there were many points of view expressed (in reason and in rhetoric). But the expression of those views were what made the Constitution what it was--lean and strong and revolutionary in the rights it vested in We the People.

The Founding Fathers (for all their flaws, like forgetting about women and allowing slavery to continue) knew one thing clearly, government works best when it is by the people for the people. There's a reason that Presidents and Congressmen serve short, fixed terms and are up for reelection. And that's why freedom of the press is a constitutional guarantee. Which includes those presses that publish the novels we love to read and some of us love to write. So you may not like erotic romance, or you may prefer that your love story always have a happy ending--great! There will be a book for you on the shelf because of the freedom of press (and those books you don't like? they'll be on the shelf for those who do).

Every writer knows when she/he takes up the pen that the written word makes one more visible than may be wise, and more vulnerable. Our prejudices become bared in our manner and method of telling a story (Jefferson's prejudices are discernible in the Declaration and the Founding Father's themselves reveal so much in the papers they left behind). The truth in our hearts, and the little lies we tell ourselves are captured there, too. Sometimes a pet dies (and the letters of protest flood in), sometimes a burden in life is lifted or eased in a wonderful way (and the letters of joy flood in). Sometimes the inspiration is ineffable and unspoken. Sometimes it changes the world.

So while you're celebrating the birth of the United States, hug a writer for carrying on the 230 year old tradition of Jefferson, even if he or she doesn't write the kind of book you like to read (and then go buy a book by a new writer you think you just may enjoy reading).

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