One useless man is a disgrace, two are a law firm, and three or more become a Congress.
–John Adams in the musical 1776
In a democracy, the most important office is the office of citizen.
–Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
Although its follies and problems measure up to its potential and stature, the United States is the best and greatest country the world has ever had. The signing of the Declaration of Independence is worthy of celebration, if only to remind us of how it came about, its vision of America, and our role in keeping its ideals alive.
On the morning of America’s birthday, I want to recommend two things for you to watch. One may change your mind, the other your life. The first is a talk by John Perkins, author of Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded–and What We Need to Do to Remake Them. You can watch it at www.c-spanvideo.org. Perkins said that despite corporate bribes and paralyzing partisanship, we, as citizens, can determine what happens in this country.
A revolution won is a revolution lost. When people believe there’s nothing more to fight for and just enjoy the fruits of victory, they begin to lose the victory. The only way to win a revolution is to keep striving to keep its ideals alive, especially at a time of political impasse, accelerating change, and the growing urgency of our problems. The planet has only one hyper-connected economy and only one family: the human family. As Benjamin Franklin warned, “For surely if we do not hang together, we will most assuredly hang separately.” Hatred is a luxury humanity can no longer afford. “We must,” as poet W. H. Auden urged, “love one another or die.”
A Senator once said: “Politics is too important to be left to politicians.” America can only work if we the people do what we must to keep the vision of the Declaration of Independence alive by striving to fulfill its dream of a free, independent, thriving country, eager to reach the compromises needed to balance contrary beliefs. That is one lesson from the musical 1776 that Elizabeth and I watch to help celebrate the holiday. The movie offers timeless lessons we avoid at our peril. It shows how divided and ineffective Congress was, how huge the odds were against the Declaration, how one vote made the difference, and how it took a disastrous compromise on slavery to convince the South to sign it.
Perkins asked his audience to do one thing every day to make the world better, an idea as powerful as it is simple. More than ever before, writers have the opportunity, not just to make a living, but to make a difference. It’s easier than ever for the right idea and the right book to change the world, and the Internet puts the world at your fingertips.
Perkins said that when Rachel Carson sat down at her small desk in her Pennsylvania home to write The Silent Spring about how DDT was harming the planet, she had no idea she was writing a bestseller that would become a classic, rid the world of DDT, and start the international environmental movement. Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, your passion and your gift for portraying the challenges we face and proposing solutions will make a difference. It’s impossible for you to know how big a difference you can make, but it’s much greater than you think.
How about writing and signing your own declaration of independence from whatever is keeping you from becoming the best, most creative and productive person that only you can be? Free yourself from beliefs, people, and activities that waste your resources but don’t help you achieve your goals. Liberating yourself will be something to celebrate every day. No matter where you are in your life or your writing career, remember Anne Frank’s words: “It’s never too late to start doing the right thing.” Have a happy 5th.
The 5th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference / Changing the World One Book at a Time
Jean Shinoda Bolen, Moving Toward the Millionth Circle: Energizing the Global Women’s Movement
The 11th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community
San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn
Michael Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents / Helping Writers Launch Careers Since 1972