And now we partake in that ever-so-American exercise of celebrating our birthday. Many of us will fly our flags, watch politicians and marching bands parade on by, fire up our grills, "oooh" and "aaah" over some fireworks and maybe twirl a sparkler or two ourselves.
It's the 237th anniversary of our birth as a great nation, founded to free our forebears of the tyranny of British rule. The Founders and other colonists weren't happy with that government, with taxation without representation, so they did something about it.
So why not now in Illinois?
I'm not remotely suggesting we break out the muskets or AK-47s or anything of the kind, but why don't more of us demand the better government we deserve?
We probably won't dwell on this too much tomorrow, but scientific public polling shows a strong majority of us are not happy with our Congress. We're none too pleased with our state officials either.
Many of them are good and decent people who do care about improving Illinois, but collectively, they have been unable to muster the votes to do what clearly needs doing.
They need a push. They need to know we're all watching and we expect better.
We still have the nation's worst pension debt. We still have $6 billion in unpaid bills, and that figure is expected to balloon again soon. We have politicians who, despite all of that, spent $2 billion more in the fiscal year that just started than in the one that just ended. We still have systems that allow for corruption and for politicians to cling to their power like cicadas cling to tree bark.
And yet, unlike Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, too many of us either don't pay attention, don't care, or don't do anything more than complain about throwing the bums out.
I get it. Really, I do. We're so steeped in corruption and the notion that we can't effect change that we're more likely to grow tea in our backyards than we are to speak up and demand better. We've seen Republican and Democratic governors go to prison for corruption lately, and it is true that the same people have been controlling things in Springfield for more than four decades.
We figure we're powerless and they're clueless, and we quit caring long ago. And then, well, we're just plain busy. And tired. We work longer at our jobs. We've got kids and grandkids to worry about and enjoy. It's tough to keep up with the housework and the home improvements, and it's summer, and talk to those politicians? Pffffft! What a waste of my precious, precious time. They'll never listen anyway, right?
Well, yes, if none of us speaks up.
They're speaking up again in Egypt lately, protesting in the streets and demanding change.
They're also taking to the streets in Brazil to demonstrate against widespread corruption in government. More than 1 million people in Brazil rallied against corruption a few weeks ago.
Of course, those protests veer into violence, and various groups use them to their less-than-ethical advantage.
I don't advocate any of that.
But those demonstrations, and the Arab Spring uprisings that came before them, remind me once again that our government can be better if we're willing, together, to put in some effort. To speak up. To demand change. To attend a meeting now and then.
Persuade your family, friends, neighbors and social networks to join you.
It really doesn't take all that much time or effort. If enough of us get back in the habit of doing it, we just might find we can be our own powerful, personal special interest. We just might find we can improve Illinois and, therefore, our own futures and the futures of those who will live here long after we're gone.
It doesn't need to be bloody or violent in any way. But hey, just spend one minute more thinking about it. America was born from revolution, protest and standing up for a better tomorrow. Today is Independence Day.
Why not make that the start of channeling a little Thomas Jefferson here in Illinois?
It's the American way.
"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. That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men, directing their just powers from the consent of the governed..."