July 4th holiday provides opportunity to reflect on representative democracy
Author: Miller Hudson - July 6, 2012 - Updated: July 6, 2012
Most Americans would probably prefer that the July 4th holiday be scheduled like Labor Day and Memorial Day, guaranteeing us another three-day weekend each summer. But, it was, after all, July 4th when our Declaration of Independence was written 236 years ago; and, here we are, still celebrating that decision to overthrow colonial rule and find our own way in the world as a democratic people. It’s also been 225 years since we drafted the Constitution that governs our federal system. I suspect many of our founding fathers, and they were all male, freehold property owners, would be somewhat surprised that their creation has survived, relatively unchanged, into a third century.
This year’s mid-week holiday provides an opportunity to marvel at the adaptability of the governing framework they designed to respond to changes in a society they could never have anticipated. It required a bloody Civil War to remove the original stain of slavery, but, for the most part, our history has been one of steadily expanding rights and opportunity for immigrants, women, minorities, gays, and, especially, African Americans. Our record with Native Americans is considerably more shameful; but, even there, a certain degree of justice has been restored during recent decades. A more prescriptive document would have foundered in the face of the industrial revolution of the 19th century, not to mention the technological challenges of the 20th. It should prove supple enough to accommodate our current transition to an information age and a service economy.
Yet, as the recent political squabble over national health care policy demonstrates, there remains a recurring tension whenever Americans reach a turning point for major national policies that affect the general population. This resistance to change is probably, on balance, a positive disposition, forcing reformers to justify the changes they advocate. At the same time, resisting every change, every regulation simply for the sake of resistance, when changing circumstances clearly demand adjustment, serves only the interests of entrenched power (and, usually, entrenched profits). Despite this bias, for better than two centuries we have managed to maintain a political system that repeatedly restores economic protections for the middle class nearly as fast as they are stripped away by the forces of privilege and greed. We appear to have reached one of those periods that will demand an economic retrenchment on behalf of those who rise each morning to undertake the tough, unnoticed, often risky and frequently under compensated jobs that serve us all.
I was reminded of all this last Sunday at the City Park Jazz Concert where Officer Hollis lost her life. Despite the baking heat, a huge crowd enjoyed a wonderful evening of musical entertainment. The band had just completed its “Thank You” and farewell to the crowd, when we heard two short bursts of what I mistook for firecrackers. Then we witnessed a flash flood of fleeing fans and suspected the worst. It would be several hours before we learned that a single mom, a working mom, a Denver cop was dead. It was a sickening gut kick. Whatever had happened, at least two lives were finished.
It has been gratifying that the community has so evidently stood up to honor both Officer Hollis, and her fellow police officers. At the District 2 station on Monday afternoon, one of her colleagues, who had worked with her since they graduated together from rookie school seven years ago, observed that he didn’t know another officer on the force who was prouder to wear their police uniform than Hollis — then he broke down into sobs. That was another gut wrench. An African-American minister, whose name I didn’t catch, pointed out that if young people in the Park Hill community want to join a gang, this was the right gang for them to join as he acknowledged the officers standing behind him. On Tuesday, they would be back on the street doing their jobs, protecting our young and old, weak and strong.
This week, the crowd at the jazz concert was observably smaller, down perhaps a third, but families of astonishing diversity accepted the purple ribbons distributed in memory of Hollis. Despite another 100-degree scorcher, Mayor Hancock passed through the crowd for hours personally thanking the audience for returning and standing up for normality. These were the middle class men and women, and their families, who will go back to work this week, providing the backbone that has allowed our representative democracy to survive into a third century. It was a typically American response I will recall on future July 4th holidays.
Miller Hudson is a columnist for The Colorado Statesman. He served in the Colorado General Assembly for two terms and currently a public affairs consultant.