I have a quirky thirty-year tradition of writing an Independence Day essay. Some have been published as letters to the editor; others remain firmly tucked in a journal. 246 is this year’s entry.

It is painful and embarrassing to admit that many citizens have no desire or inclination to celebrate this nation’s 246th birthday. Who can blame them? We are in dark, turbulent times, with rising authoritarianism, theocracy, conspiracy, idiocy, and the gutting of liberties. The litany of abuses, lack of accountability, feckless leadership, and unencumbered hatred is long and disheartening. The beauty of this nation is that we can still criticize it, speak out against it, and even be ashamed of it freely. Maybe. Sometimes. Some of us. For now.

Here’s the thing; you may be sick of politics, and check out. You may be angry at entertainers with a platform for having a point of view that interferes with your escapism, but politics isn’t the problem. It’s your lack of interest in politics, freedoms, and the rights of those who don’t look like you.

Most rational and informed people now recognize with alarming clarity how close we were to outright losing our democracy on 1/6. We must acknowledge that the threat is not over; the whittling away of our values continues.

The Supreme Court has interfered with the sacred privacy between doctor and patient, devalued autonomy, revoked established rights, and incited genuine fear from those targeted by their ruling.

Similar abominations are rising in a swath of statehouses and school boards across the country. This is not new, for although there is enormous strength in the democratic system, there is tremendous weakness in mankind’s susceptibility to greed, power, and the desire to “fit in.”

The mingling of religion, corporate money, and politics are also not new. They have always been a destructive meddlesome trio when allowed to dance together. The intolerable rise of theocratic influence has found welcoming arms. Its embrace kills democracy, and we would do well to begin exorcising its stench from our laws.

Whether admired or detested, corporations are comprised of and operate with and by people — the same rings true for local, state, and federal institutions — all populated by fellow citizens.

We the people, serve, staff, legislate, judge, elect and re-elect whom we think can best represent us. To opt out of that because you don’t feel like it is weak and defeatist. Do not continue to support lunacy with your votes (or by lack of voting) your money, patronage, time, or energy. Their oppressive aspirations and practices will continue to take your breath and freedom away. Refuse. Instead, suffocate their idolatry and idiocy, not with indifference, hysterics, or fear, but by starving them of your consideration. They reject civility and inflate their numbers, which though large, do not represent growth, the future, or reality. Their threats are real, but their convictions are farcical. Do not clump them in a classification higher than We the People. They do not speak nor act on behalf of us. Do not mistake them for leaders. Retreating to bygone days and fervently clinging to antiquated views is not leadership.

The anniversary of our independence is worth celebrating to remind us how far we have come and how quickly we have lost our way. This is not the time for abandonment or fragile leadership. Patriotic platitudes will not fix our problems. Thoughts and prayers have done nothing to curb the violence inflicted on others. No amount of doom scrolling or elbow bending into oblivion will numb the pain we feel. We must acknowledge our past sins, admit where we have come up short, atone and make amends where we can. Doing what we currently do will accomplish little more than further erode our claims of a functional democracy.

By every measure, we can not, in good faith, say we are ascendant. We can, however, stop the precipitous decline. Keep in mind, 246 years, and we are still here. Most institutions in this nation have held up under the assaults on democracy. Some have faltered, and everyone can view the horizon and see the silhouette of marauding predators looking to crush what still stands. If we as citizens abdicate, what we hold dear will be trampled and crumble like sandcastles under the feet of reckless children. However, if we as citizens unite and lead, we can ensure our democracy holds like titanium and strengthens by our bond. When we unite, we remind ourselves and the world that the power of our constitution, laws, and sense of decency comes from us. We must not lose our popular sovereignty to narcissists, terrorists, useful idiots, or complacency.

We must demand effective leadership and accountability and step into leadership roles. Despite being tired or the prey of distractions and novelty, we must outlast opponents of freedom with wave upon wave of decisive action. Use your time, talent, or treasure to uncover how you can lead from where you are. This nation, a ragtag collection of individuals from all walks of life toting various sized baggage of privilege and burden, needs you if we hope to survive.

Happy birthday.

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Karl Bimshas

Karl Bimshas

Boston-bred and California-chilled Leadership Adviser | Writer | Podcast Host who helps busy professionals who want to manage better and lead well.