My Challenge to You
History matters. July 4 of this year marks the 232nd anniversary of the
July 4, 1776 proclamation of the American Declaration of Independence.
What happened 232 years ago matters. How we treat it matters.
On this continent in that hot July 232 years ago, the members of the
continental congress meeting in Philadelphia made an electrifying
decision: that they would challenge the power of the British Empire for
the right to govern themselves.
It was recklessly audacious to declare independence from a British Crown
that was not willing to grant independence. The act of doing so was an act
of treason, punishable by death. Under British law, the undertaking to
which the signatories of the Declaration voluntarily committed themselves
incurred the maximum possible risk to which any subject of the British
monarch could be exposed. In signing their names to the Declaration, they
signed their own death warrants, and they knew it.
Indeed, words like "reckless" and "audacious" cannot
do justice to the step taken by the signatories of the Declaration of
Independence. It was an act of raw courage of the highest possible order.
It was electrifying, not only to the signers and their families, but to
all the population of the 13 British colonies - newly declared to be free
and independent states - and to all the world. It was not a genteel act.
It was an action that was unimaginably subversive and revolutionary. It
was an act that challenged the entire world order.
It was not the mere act of declaring political independence that was so
electrifying. The signatories proclaimed much more than political
independence from the British Empire. They proclaimed the independence of
humanity from millennia of subservience to kings, princes, monarchs,
priests, god-kings, and all measures of royalty, nobility, and divinity.
They presented to the world a new vision of human social and political
relations, one founded on the twin premises that all of us are equally
ordained with universal and unalienable human rights and that no
government can rightfully exist except by the consent of the governed.
Unique to the known history of the planet up to that day, the signers of
the Declaration announced to their American countrymen, to the British
King, and to the world that here and now they were establishing a whole
new way of doing things, of arranging human society, of human life itself:
that they were proclaiming not only a new political entity and government,
but a new society based on unshakable commitment to the propositions that
human beings have irrefutable universal rights to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness; that the purpose of government is to secure these
rights; and that the only legitimate powers of government are those
derived from the consent of the governed.
And they also said: the establishment of our new society is so important
to us that we would rather die than live without it, and for the
accomplishment of the freedom to realize this vision we pledge to each
other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. In other words, we
commit ourselves to giving up everything we have to give, to sacrificing
all that we have to sacrifice, to obtain this; and we seal the commitment
with our mutual and reciprocal pledges to each other.
In their own lifetimes, the signatories of the Declaration and their
generation were terribly flawed in the immediate implementation. They did
not apply their vision of universal and equal human rights to slaves,
descendants of slaves, people of the indigenous tribes, penniless persons,
or women. But it does not excuse them from these terrible flaws to say at
the same time that the Declaration they delivered to the world was
nevertheless remarkable for the vision it set forth and for the beginning
it sparked. The terribleness of the flaws and the remarkableness of the
vision are both undeniable and irrefutable.
Every American, whether descended from two centuries or two generations of
American forebears, whether a native-born American or an immigrant
American, is an heir to the vision declared to the world on July 4, 1776.
It is my contention that every generation of Americans is morally
duty-bound to advance the progress of human society closer toward the
realization of the vision set forth in the Declaration of Independence. It
is our birthright and our legacy.
For we who are here to witness the 232nd anniversary of the Declaration of
Independence, I wonder whether any of us could do what they did in
deciding to sign the document. In fact, I wonder how many of us realize
how short a time 232 years represents in the march of history. In my
estimation, 232 years is far too short a lifetime for the legacy of the
Declaration of Independence. It is far too soon for it to die.
The Roman Republic had a history of 600 years even before the Caesars
replaced the republic with an empire ruled by an emperor. There are cities
and towns in Europe, Africa, and Asia that have existed continuously as
organized municipalities for more than two thousand years. In the long
view of history, 1776 was but an eye-blink ago.
The situation confronting Americans on July 4, 2008 is not a pretty one
for the vision of the Declaration. A ruling cabal that does not
understand, appreciate, or care about the meaning of the Declaration of
Independence has pushed us collectively backward, further away from the
realization of the vision, in the opposite direction from living up to our
legacy. They have pushed us so far backward that the very fabric of our
national vision has been bashed and battered in ways that have frightened
us profoundly during the reign of the cabal. It tears at our collective
soul. It rips us and sears us.
And in our national legislature, the U.S. Congress, the leadership of the
opposition party that attained political power in the Congress in the last
general election two years ago continues to react with maddening and
frightening lameness to the ruling cabal's continuing desecration of
these national values that constitute our inheritance from not only our
revolutionary forebears of 1776, but also from all the other countless
heroes, sung and unsung, who have strived and struggled to advance the
progress of the vision in all the decades and years from then until now.
To mark the 232nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in this
year of 2008, I hereby solemnly rededicate myself to unswerving
faithfulness to its magnificent and revolutionary vision. I will not
accept or excuse further backward movement from its goals by those who
serve as elected representatives in our self-government or by those who
aspire to be elected. I make this pledge with the utmost seriousness and
gravity. I challenge you to do the same.
David Van Os
Through 31 years of law practice, David Van Os has
concentrated his priorities in the defense of Constitutional
rights and liberties through the courts, the protection of working
people through labor law and union contracts, and the promotion of
He has been listed in the prestigious reference
book Best Lawyers in America by peer review for over 20
consecutive years. In 2005 the Backbone Campaign honored David
with its Spine Award.
David is considered a co-founder in 2002 of the
Texas Democratic Progressive Populist Caucus, and continues as an
ex officio member of the steering committee. In 2007 he was named
chairman of the board of the Inter-American Education Consortium
and its hallmark project, the Liberty and Democracy Alliance.
For more information contact Rachel Barrios-Van Os
210-332-7080 or visit http://vanosfortexasag.com.