Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Independence Day

This week we celebrate our national holiday, the 4th of July. I hope it still means something more to us than fireworks and a day off work. Karen Schneider published a nice piece on respect for the flag. Here's a speech I gave a few years back, but still relevant:

Remarks on dedication of the library flagpole, April 19, 2002

Good morning and welcome. Thanks for being here. This is a day to celebrate and give thanks. It’s a special day for this library and a special day for our nation… for our nation not just because there’s one more flag raised today, though every flag that’s raised is a testament to someone’s love of country.

No, this is a special day because it’s the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. 227 years ago, the opening shot of the American Revolution was fired, the so-called “shot heard round the world” And when we reflect on the meaning of that battle and how it led us to be here today, we reflect on what it means to be an American and to raise this flag. It wasn’t until over a year after those first shots were fired that they put down on paper just what they were fighting for and what it meant: “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, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Those framers of the Declaration raised up a great ideal. In the intervening 227 years, many have laid down their lives in sacrifice for their country, and for that ideal.

Today we raise our flag, for we love our country. But every country in the world has a flag and patriotism: people who rightly love their homes, their soil, seas and skies, who rightly care about their neighbors and their nation. What makes America special is just this: we were founded for freedom and we stand for freedom. It was this ideal that made America the birthplace of free public libraries, a great institution now found around the world, but growing out of this country. For freedom is also the fundamental quality of the public library, freedom of speech, freedom to read, freedom to learn, freedom to decide and think for oneself.

The framers of our constitution understood this: it was Thomas Jefferson who noted “A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.” And James Madison, defender of the Bill of Rights, said “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

This power of knowledge and the love of learning underscore the importance and enduring popularity of public libraries. This is the reason why, when our legislators met in Madison two days ago to begin working out their budget compromise, in their first day they could only agree on one thing: to keep public libraries free in Wisconsin. Let us pledge our allegiance not only to this flag and the republic for which it stands, but more importantly to the ideals for which it and the republic stand – let us pledge ourselves to responsible citizenship, to freedom and liberty. Our liberty may be an unalienable right, but let us never take it for granted.