Independence Day, 2008 Grace Lee Boggs

Independence Day,  2008
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, July 13-19, 2008

“There is nothing like the threat of execution to focus the human
mind.” (G.K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown mysteries).

In 2008,  our “threat of execution” is taking the form of high gas
prices, floods in Iowa, wildfires in California, the cyclone in Burma
(Myanamur) and earthquake in southwest China, melting icecaps, rising
seas and a sinking economy.

That is why, decades from now, if the human race survives,  this
year’s Fourth of July may be remembered as the one when holiday
celebrations went beyond beer and barbecuing to include stories of the
steps that we and others are taking and can take to change the way we
are living to stop global warming.

This year we realized that we are the masters of our fate and the
captains of our souls.  Instead of viewing ourselves as subjects who
can’t stop driving SUVs, we began viewing ourselves as citizens with
the right and responsibility to care for our planet and our posterity.

Decades from now, as our grandchildren and great-grandchildren gather
in backyards with friends, families and neighbors to celebrate their
Independence Day, I can imagine them toasting each other as Sons and
Daughters of the Second American Revolution. Once upon a time, they’ll
be toasting and boasting, it was our grandparents and
great-grandparents who began biking or taking the bus to work. It was
our grandparents and great-grandparents who urged others to do the same
instead of just griping. It was our grandparents and great-grandparents
who brought  about a historic decline in the number of  floods,
hurricanes, droughts and wildfires by changing their own gas-guzzling
way of life. It was our grandparents and great-grandparents who
organized the  demonstrations which persuaded city governments to
create one or two carfree days every month and provide completely free
public transportation to discourage people from driving cars.

I have little patience with the prophets of Doom and Gloom.  I know as
well as they do that our whole climate is changing, that water
shortages, crop failures, increasing damages from extreme weather
events, etc. threaten a breakdown in infrastructures and democratic

But doomsayers breed and deepen despair. They apparently believe that
the only way to avoid total collapse is by changing the whole system
with one stroke –  as if human beings were like a school of fish who
all change direction at the same time or as if changing the whole
system was as simple as rubbing out some misspelled words on a

Meanwhile, there are a lot of people who, alarmed by rising food
costs, last year’s spinach and this year’s tomato crisis,  are taking
small steps that can become big ones.  They are choosing of their own
free will to eat locally, to become locavores. This year there has been

a giant leap in the number of grow-it-yourselfers. These days  the
urban agricultural movement is the fastest growing movement in the
United States.

The huge changes now necessary to avert a planetary catastrophe will
probably come about from an accumulation or culmination of such small
changes,  through a combination of Necessity (being kicked from behind)   and Freedom (choosing to do the right thing).

It was not because of abstract idealism that Detroit’s “Gardening
Angels”  sparked the  urban agricultural movement that is pointing a
direction for 21st century cities.  The sight of all these vacant lots
(in the wake of de-industrialization) inspired these elders who had
been raised in the south to plant community gardens.  These gardens,
they thought, would not only grow food.  They would give young people
raised in the city a sense of process.

As columnist Ellen Goodman put it in a recent article, gardening
“doesn’t have the marching sound of John Philip Sousa. It doesn’t have
the patriotic salience of a flag. But in dicey times, the idea of
growing just a bit of your own food carries the real flavor of July
Fourth. It smacks a lot of independence.”

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