In May of 1775, over a year before the official birth of this new nation, the Second Continental Congress convened inside Independence Hall, Philadelphia. It was just a month after shots had been fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, demonstrating Britain’s unwillingness to relinquish their rule, and this Congress was as yet indecisive about what action it should take in response.
While other statesman showed up with opinions, proposals, and overtures, George Washington showed up in uniform. He knew what was coming. He knew that words turn into positions, and positions engender oppositions, and these two produce conflict, and if there is serious support behind both, extended conflict. No one had to piece it together for him.
Claiming such seemingly innocuous ideas as ‘everyone gets to play at the same table’ was serious business. It meant making major sacrifices. It meant changing your lifestyle. It meant taking on roles you didn’t feel completely qualified for. It meant showing up for battle.
Whenever I see someone in a picket or protest line carrying a banner or a sign, regardless of whether I side with them or not, I always feel a certain baseline of respect. They got up that morning and gave up their day’s agenda – earning an income, taking care of kids, tending the homestead, etc. – to take a chance on freedom. After all, outcomes are never guaranteed at a protest. Sometimes I feel I have more in common with the gal in the picket line standing up against my views than the one on my side who stayed home. Their convictions are at least as strong as mine.
Of course, there are many ways to put up a fight. Some much less obvious: voting for a candidate for public office, volunteering to tutor (much more on this coming up!), joining an advocacy group, helping to write new legislation, standing up to a corporation that is treating you and your fellow workers badly – all, I might add, much less lethal. But a fight’s a fight: it’s risky, it takes all you got, and the outcome is almost always uncertain. But not much substantive change in society happens without one.
At that same congress, Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. He spent the next several years far from the halls of power and instead on the battlefield, meting out the very freedom he signed up for when he walked into that room back in 1775.
This year, after celebrating freedom, fight for it. And pick a good fight!