What will we celebrate 250 years after America’s Declaration of Independence?

| 15 Feb 2023 | 10:49

In three years, America will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence. This unique document did more than announce our separation from a remote and despotic ruler. It also laid out ideas for a radically new form of government. Power in the new nation would be in the hands of its people, not its powerful. The people would set limits and boundaries on those who governed in their name. Its citizens would have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that no government could infringe without their consent.

Despite skeptics and faults, that system has lasted two and a half centuries. But today America is plagued with problems: A deeply divided society, a shrinking middle class, massive distrust in our public institutions, a resurgence of violence and racism, and more.

Our elected leaders often seem less interested in solving our problems than pandering to special interests so they can to get re-elected. They rarely seem to hear the voice of the people, which is muddled by the echo chambers of social media. The social compact built by the Founders is coming apart. The biggest threats to our democracy are internal.

A group of former government and academic individuals have been discussing the state of America for several years: How did we come to this state of affairs? Are there ways to right our ship of state? A main concern of what we call The Forum on Democracy is communication between our leaders and those they lead. The Founders believed deeply in the wisdom of the American people, and in the idea that their voice must be heard and heeded by those in power.

Today, that voice is not being heard.

The Forum on Democracy has begun an effort to hold a National Conversation about these issues. The first step is to solicit ideas from ordinary people, not politicians or the powerful – that wisdom of the people the Founders believed in so deeply. We are doing this through a series of questions at the community level based on “The American Dream.”

The phrase “The American Dream” was first used by historian James Adams in 1931. He described it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” This Dream is drawn from the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, adapted over time to include the ideas of representative democracy, human rights, liberty, equality, and freedom, meaning the chance for all people to achieve prosperity, success and upward social mobility through hard work in a society with few barriers.

Our first question is: What does this American Dream mean to you? Is Adams’ belief in “opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” still valid?

Ideas on this question can be submitted in the form of essays in any medium: written, audio, video, art, or music. Entries should be no more than 600 words or five minutes long. Anyone can submit an idea, as an individual or a group. Those showing excellence will be awarded monetary prizes of up to $250 and will be published on The Forum on Democracy website. Submissions must be received by March 31.

To learn more and enter, visit theforum.us.org/contest.

Terry Anderson