Renewing Our Commitment to The Declaration
The Declaration of Independence, written 245 years ago, inspired a revolution that helped birth a nation. The power of the Declaration’s “self-evident” truths also inspired global movements for human rights and democracy that remain powerful today, by declaring that all “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.”
As we emerge from a tumultuous year—of pandemic, racial strife, and party polarization—it is worth returning to these fundamental truths, and to reflect on how they might help us heal and rebuild our incredibly diverse nation. This 4th of July weekend, a group of funders, thinkers, creators, and community leaders are launching the New Declaration campaign (at www.new declaration.com), which invites every community to join in reflection and creative expression. Our goal is to strengthen the foundations of our nation in advance of the Declaration’s 250th anniversary in 2026.
Our partners span the country, including the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University in Ohio, which for over 35 years has inspired grassroots movements for creative expression across the country. It also includes Thomas Allen Harris, the creator of Family Pictures USA, a nationally broadcast PBS documentary-style series that inspired hundreds of Americans to share their family portraits, and to discover the fundamental ways that our histories are interconnected through celebration and struggle alike. It also includes the Census Legacies project, which builds on the foundations of 2020 Census outreach to build stronger communities and more inclusive regions.
To begin, Maryland Philanthropy Network and the Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside will serve as an incubator and accelerator, helping to build and launch a five-year campaign that strengthens our shared commitments to interdependence, equity, and unity. We aim to engage communities across all states and regions—coastal and inland, urban and rural, red and blue. And we hope to soon build a movement that engages and supports a diverse array of artists, writers, storytellers and community leaders from across the country, to elevate and amplify their narratives as we begin the story of our next 250 years.
Our first year starts with a simple premise: how do we make the Declaration of Independence relevant and resonant today? Much like a living Constitution, whose meaning takes shape as society and technology evolve, we invite Americans from across the country to share their thoughts and creative expression on what each of the Declaration’s “self-evident truths” means to them and their communities.
Take “Life,” for example. What does it mean to be alive today? This question is particularly poignant as our country emerges from a year of illness and death, resilience and renewal. Using their well-honed techniques of crowdsourcing creative expression through digital media, our partners at the Wick Poetry Center and Each+Every design studio are building a platform that will allow Americans from across the country to submit their reflections through text, images, and sound.
This dynamic exhibit on “Life” will run through September 2021, and will be followed in the fall quarter with community reflections on “Liberty.” What does liberty mean to us today, particularly in light of various movements for liberation at home and abroad? What does it mean to be truly free, and how do we ensure that exercising our individual freedoms does not cause undue harm to others? In the winter quarter, we dive deeply into questions about the “pursuit of Happiness.” What does it mean to be happy? Wealth does not equate to happiness, but can we ensure happiness for all amidst growing poverty and widening inequality?
Finally, next spring, we invite Americans to think about how they would make the Declaration their own. If they had a chance to add something meaningful to the document, what word or concept would they choose that strengthens our nation? Would it be the recognition of our civic obligations, even as we affirm our most cherished freedoms? Or an affirmation of our shared fates and interdependence across race, creed, and class? Or perhaps the assertion of another kind of right, something that we see as more self-evident today than our Founders did two and a half centuries ago?
These are just the beginnings. We are at an important juncture in this country, as new technologies seem to divide us like never before. We invite you to join us in this journey, to generate a renewed commitment that can unify our nation for its next 250 years.
Karthick Ramakrishnan is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside, and Maggie Gunther Osborn is the President and CEO of Maryland Philanthropy Network.
Source: The Press-Enterprise