When I was a kid, my family owned a blind Boston Terrier dog named Sprite. This dog had lost both of its eyes because of its tenacity and ferocity—one because of a fight with a porcupine, the other by being run over by a car. It spent most of its life in this state of blindness, but it did not let this hold it back. It continued to explore the back-country trails near where I grew up, and it never backed down from a fight.
During the humid Wisconsin summers, my family would often cook hotdogs, corn, and other summer food over an outdoor fire. Sprite, with her ferocious nature, would grab flaming coals from the fire with her mouth and proceed to fight them. She would snap at the coals and growl menacingly until they were nearly out, at which point she would declare herself the winner and move on to the next fiery challenger. We would have to break up these fights before she scorched her mouth, but they were nevertheless comical.
As a nation, it sometimes feels like we are a blind dog fighting against burning coals. As soon as one fight dies down, we just pull another one from the fire and attack it. But the writers of the Declaration of Independence included one sentence that I believe encapsulates what keeps our nation lurching forward.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This sentence is a beautiful statement of equality—in my opinion it is one of the most powerful statements written in Western civilization. It was written by elite men who had just dared to challenge the most powerful empire in the world. Yet they still were willing to express their belief that all human beings are created with innate equality and God-given rights.
But like a blind dog fighting fire, our country has had to fight to express what these words actually mean. With each new struggle, we have had to go back to this sentence and debate what “equal” or “rights” or “the pursuit of happiness” really means. We have gone through many arduous conflicts in attempting to reach the goal of equality for all.
Each new fight has caused us as a nation to recoil as the hot coals of prejudice burn us. There have always been those in our nation who do not want these rights extended to all. There have always been those who do not believe that we were all created equal. We have had to fight the coals of slavery, put out the fires of Native American genocide, challenge the smoldering Jim Crow laws. We’ve had to battle the burning racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and religious fanaticism that continue to permeate our society.
But the truths of and belief in that one sentence from the Declaration of Independence keep our nation moving forward in the fight for equality. We have a long way to go—and we have taken many detours—but the point of having a goal is that you continue letting it determine your course. As long as we continue to hold these truths as self-evident, we will continue fighting over equality, and as long as we continue fighting over equality, we will continue fighting for equality, even if the coals do burn us.
On this Independence Day, remember that when the Founding Fathers wrote that sentence they set a goal for our society. They determined a course for our country. And that course is away from the many -isms that plague us and toward a society that upholds freedom for all … not just a certain race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or culture. We may be a blind dog fighting fire, but at least we are fighting it.