Boy, am I glad I got out of my own way and finally agreed with my partner, Lori, to venture into Philadelphia before proceeding into Manhattan. Touring Independence Hall and seeing the Liberty Bell gave me a new perspective of the suggested theme.
Benjamin Franklin is, arguably, one of the greatest minds this country has ever known. Regardless of the span of centuries or the number of people who went there before me, being in the actual room where he helped draft the most important documents in the history of our great nation had a profound impact on me.
Bear with me for a brief history lesson, or to paraphrase Mythbusters, “Warning: Historical Content.” We all know that Franklin lived in a time of sweeping changes in Europe and the American colonies. According to Wikipedia (Yes, I know. But this isn’t a Master’s thesis), Franklin lived in an era known as the Age of Enlightenment. It was a cultural movement of intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries whose purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. This period promoted skepticism, intellectual interchange, and scientific thought. This same period opposed superstition, intolerance, and some abuses of power by the church and the state.
Franklin was credited with the saying, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” I’m not sure if this quote struck me so deeply because I tend to be a bit oppositional to begin with, or if it was my proximity to the room where Franklin and the other Founding Fathers essentially said to the establishment, “We don’t agree with you and we’re going to do things our way. If you have a problem with that, that’s too damn bad.”
Standing in Independence Hall, and again while writing this, I found the gravity of their situation astounding. To have the courage to stand up to the wealthier and better armed crown of England was not a task to be undertaken lightly.
We are at a similar point today. This time it is issues of equal pay, marriage equality, employment discrimination, tax benefits, adoption rights, trans* equality, bullying, and housing discrimination. These related rights and protections are denied to us because of who we are. It is our job as citizens of this amazing republic to ask questions. It is our responsibility, as the forebears of our future generations, to call our leaders and power holders on the carpet for things that are unfair and unjust. We deserve more than the crumbs others want to give us because we are different, but we have to stand up and take our fair share. After all, Franklin did also tell us, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”