Home     Writers     Op/Ed     Book Reviews     News     Bookstore     Photoshops     Submit     Search     Contact Us     Advertise  
  You are here: 

Fri

18

Jul

2008

I Think I Saw Tom Paine On The 4th Of July
Friday, 18 July 2008 11:35
by Carolyn Baker
These are the times that try men's souls.
- Thomas Paine
Everyone said I must attend a Fourth of July parade in New England. I yawned and thought of all the Fourth of July parades with which I'd been familiar while growing up in the Midwest-you know, the emphasis on God, country, mom, apple pie, and America right or wrong. I hadn't attended one since I was a very young child. But my friends assured me that it's different in New England, and especially in Vermont.

And so I went to what is traditionally the largest and most popular Fourth of July parade in the state, the one in Warren. I got up very early in order to get there in time to find a parking place which I was warned would be daunting. Like most rural Vermont towns, Warren resembles a small New England village during the days of the Revolutionary War with its white wooden-frame town hall, a narrow main street alongside a tiny, gurgling stream, and a few small shops of colonial architecture.

The Warren parade is traditionally quite political, especially this year as presidential, gubernatorial, legislative, and Congressional seats will be hotly contested in November. But what most impressed me was not the content of the parade, but the mood of the people participating and watching. Yes, I proudly marched in the parade with the Vermont Independence folks and handed out copies of their first-rate, newspaper, Vermont Commons, the style of which is not unlike those early colonial newspapers that served up an intellectual feast rather than the vending machine, mindless junk food of today's corporate tabloids.




In the throes of bands playing, crowds cheering, and walking alongside a man dressed as Ethan Allen, for a moment I was transported to 1776. In some towns throughout the colonies, little attention was paid to independence and the writings of Thomas Paine, but in Vermont, independence, not only from England but from other colonies, was always a front-burner issue. Hence this state's tradition of independent, sometimes iconoclastic, thinking.

Just the night before I had sat in a meadow between two mountains in Southern Vermont listening to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the grand finale of the concert being Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" complete with some of the most spectacular fireworks I've ever witnessed. As the blasts echoed against the mountains and reverberated in my body, I suddenly realized that this cacophony was what the Revolutionary War sounded like, ricocheting across the hills and valleys of New England. Although I abhor war, it's obvious that on numerous occasions in human history, oppressed peoples haven't been able to reclaim their independence without it. And so it was in this part of the world in 1776. Yet one cannot reflect on the independence gained by the thirteen original colonies without immediately noticing how it did not apply to people of color or women and how quickly westward expansion violated the spirit of the Constitution crafted by the Founders and ratified by the patriots.

The European culture which decimated the New World on every level was founded on the principles of an unfinished Enlightenment that touted individual human rights but only for the privileged few. Estranged as it was from its ancient indigenous roots, it had no tribal template in which elders initiated the young and schooled them from birth to be part of, not inimical to, the earth community. While the Pilgrims lived harmoniously with Native Americans for a short while in Massachusetts, they soon began mimicking their Puritan brethren by rejecting Native values of sharing, cooperation, and the sacredness of the land on which they settled.

Thus, individuals like Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Patrick Henry served as the only "elders" the colonists had. How different the history of United States may have been had these elders been initiated human beings with the capacity to open to, rather than resist, the wisdom of their indigenous neighbors. Franklin did spend time living with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, one of the world's oldest democracies. However, despite his and his peer's admiration for the confederacy and their implementation of many of its political concepts in the Constitution, none were able to empathize with it on an emotional or spiritual level. Had they been able to do so, they may have intentionally incorporated indigenous values into American society which might have preserved the republic and circumvented empire, not to mention rabid consumerism, maniacal resource plunder, and the abject rape of the ecosystem.

Nevertheless, back here in the twenty-first century on July 4, 2008, the values of independence and cooperation that motivated for example, Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty and that permeate the writings of Thomas Paine, surged through my body while hearing fireworks rebound off New England mountains and while marching in a Vermont Independence Day parade. Incomplete as the Enlightenment was, it visited me in a brief but extraordinary epiphany this past week. Call me hopelessly romantic and idealistic, but the presence of Tom Paine and the patriots is palpable in Warren, Vermont's annual Independence Day festivities, and I feel fortunate to have experienced it.

And now call me pessimistic because even as I tasted the spirit of liberty on July 4, 2008, I could not help but ask myself what the people who sat in the meadow listening to the symphony while drinking their wine and eating their picnic snacks will be doing a year from now. How many will be able to drive to such an event or afford a ticket? Will the symphony itself be able to travel throughout the state presenting summer concerts? Likewise, how well attended will Independence Day parades be next year? Between now and then, might there be frantic attempts by the hungry, the homeless, the foreclosed, the bankrupt, the unemployed to craft a new American revolution? How much famine, starvation, violence, and chaos will this nation see in the next twelve months? How much backlash from empire will there be? FEMA camps in place by July 4, 2009? Will the U.S. government be involved in expanded oil wars in even more parts of the world? How many American institutions will have totally collapsed by then? How many airlines will be in business? How many people will be driving? How many trucks will be delivering food to grocery stores? If the State of Utah is now shifting to a four-day work week in order to save money and energy, what will education, healthcare, government, transportation, and other aspects of American society look like a year from now?

I'm not psychic, nor do I have a crystal ball, but everything I'm witnessing in current events tells me that on July 4, 2009, we may look back on July, 2008 as "the good ole days." I have to wonder how much "independence" we'll think we have at that point. Words like "martial law" and "Blackwater" continue to haunt my imagination.


Although I support the efforts of the Vermont Independence movement, I am well aware that dramatic earth changes and the collapse of a rotting U.S. infrastructure in a plethora of locations may well result in numerous, small, unintended, unimagined sovereignties throughout the North American continent. How will those communities live? How will they share, cooperate, function in harmony with each other and the earth community-or will they?

Thomas Paine's Common Sense was one of the most powerful instruments in forging the struggle for independence. The writings of one man, a "nobody" by today's standards and those of his day, transformed the thinking of the New World and motivated thousands to look deeply within themselves to assess what really mattered to them. Soul searching was Paine's forte, and his writings inspired the masses to do likewise and to weigh heavily the struggle they were contemplating. Doubtless, he's spinning in his grave as a result of the fascist empire that the republic has become, but I'm compelled to believe that his spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of individuals and communities who are preparing for the collapse of the empire he would give his life to defeat were he living today.

I see groups and individuals who are highly conscious of collapse and its ramifications-citizens like those struggling for Vermont Independence, countless communities across this nation who are strategizing to create food security, safeguard clean and accessible water supplies, power down their communities and implement renewable energy technologies, home school their children or create alternative schools, and implement affordable healthcare for everyone. Whether or not their efforts will prevail or be quashed by empire remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, some of those communities will survive collapse and live to tell their children about it. As a result, they will discover firsthand as Thomas Paine said, that "That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly." I know not who will survive collapse or how, but I'm quite certain that if they are capable of doing so, they will know in every cell of their bodies that they "have it in their power to begin the world over again."

I have written extensively about the futility of voting in the 2008 presidential election, and I will continue to do so, but I have also encouraged readers to vote in state and local elections. I will enthusiastically do the same in the fall in my now-home state of Vermont. Thus I leave you with a video clip of my taking the Vermont voter's oath on July 4, 2008. And perhaps, if you look closely, you might see Tom Paine somewhere over my shoulder.
 
More from this author:
An Interview with Jason Miller (6987 Hits)
by Carolyn Baker A few months ago I began receiving emails with a subject line “Submission For Linking” from Jason Miller. I’m not sure...
Christian Fascism - The Jesus Gestapo of St. Orwell (10241 Hits)
by Carolyn Baker, New York Times reporter, Chris Hedges, has written an extraordinary book, American Fascism: The Christian Right And The War On...
Rejecting Tapeworm Economics and it's War on Families (7920 Hits)
by Carolyn Baker A frightening story came across the radio waves this week and was later reported by MSNBC: “Texas governor orders STD...
The Science of Evil and its use for Political Purposes (9508 Hits)
by Carolyn Baker EVIL: 1 a:morally reprehensible :sinful, wicked b:arising from actual or imputed...
Dysfunctional Government, Dysfunctional Family (6784 Hits)
by Carolyn Baker The political is personal--and painful. This article is an update of an earlier version published in 2006 at FROM THE...
Related Articles:
Would Tom Paine end up in an orange jumpsuit today? (6631 Hits)
by Mickey Z The coast-to-coast mall known as America just loves to sing the praises of its revolutionary heroes-the land-owning white...
Still Think It Was Murder? Sure? (5073 Hits)
by Copydude Whatever the outcome of the Litvinenko affair, the damage to East-West relations has been done. Or perhaps, it has simply...
The Spirit of Tom Paine (5582 Hits)
by Stephen Lendman We only know about Tom Paine because Thomas Edison discovered him in the 1920s. Edison believed he was our most...
What Do They Think We Are, Idiots? (5702 Hits)
by Dave Lindorff In at least one area, President Bush is on the run. Congress should run him to ground. The issue, which should...
Dependence Day, or What the Bald Eagle Told the Desert Rat about the 4th of July (6201 Hits)
by Christopher Ketcham Good party for the 4th here at Pack Creek Ranch: beer, fried turkey, music, starlight and moonrise and many...


Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites
Trackback(0)
Comments (1)add comment

Tom Paine said:

0
A Kindred Spirit
My blog ID'd your site as having a piece on Tom Paine. Your essay is right on. If you have time see painesense.blogspot.com. I'll be back. Thanks.
 
July 20, 2008
Votes: +0

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

adsense

Top