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Every 4th of July, as we celebrate the anniversary of our national independence, I try to reflect on the importance of this event. Most years it involves a reading of the Declaration of Independence (which everyone really, really should do; feel free to go read it and then come back), as well as other activities, like watching the 2nd episode of the John Adam's mini-series, cracking open one of the many Stephen Ambrose biographies in my library, or reading the essays of Noam Chomsky. One year I just listened to Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful" on repeat all day. There are countless ways for citizens to reflect on the meaning of "independence," what "freedom" consists of, and what we can (and should) do as a community and a nation to improve upon those concepts.
This year, my reflection was a little different. I spent it parading through Champaign County. I marched in three parades, actually; Rantoul in the morning, Champaign-Urbana in the afternoon, and Homer late in the day.
By walking through these communities, as well as in parades elsewhere throughout the 6th Circuit, I've become acutely aware that each has its own unique qualities and characteristics. Some are diverse in terms of race and ethnicity and political point of view. Others appear more homogenous, as if still populated by the descendants of settlers who came here in the early 19th century.
The universal attribute at each of these gatherings, big and small, is the expression of pure joy on the faces of the people along the parade routes. All faces, whatever their shape or pigment, expressing the same admiration and hopefulness that has made our experiment in democracy worth pursuing.
Obviously, the observations of a prairie lawyer walking on asphalt in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity are limited. I have no illusion that life for many along these routes often does not measure up to the idealism we conjure up on days like this, and I do believe that our American experience has historically favored some over others. I am also certain that everyone along these parade routes are loyal to our country and our experiment in democracy, whatever adversity they face. This loyalty to country and community, memorialized in our federal and state Constitutions, is what I believe to be our nation's single greatest asset.
When I became a candidate for office, I was asked by the State of Illinois to submit to a "loyalty oath," the text of which is as follows:
"I Chad S. Beckett, do swear that I am a citizen of the United States and the State of Illinois, that I am not affiliated directly or indirectly with any communist organization or any communist front organization, or any foreign political agency, party, organization or government which advocates the overthrow of constitutional government by force or other means not permitted under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of this State; that I do not directly or indirectly teach or advocate the overthrow of the government of the United States or of this State or any unlawful change in the form of the governments thereof by force or any unlawful means."
I took this oath without reservation, just as I took a similar oath when I became a lawyer 20 years ago. I took this oath because I am one those people along the parade route every bit as much as I am a candidate for office. I believe in our Country and our State. I believe that we as a community are a mixture of different backgrounds and beliefs, a mixture that is sometimes obvious as you walk through a neighborhood, and other times only apparent by comparing one town with another. In every case, our loyalty to the ideals put forth in these Constitutions, to the self-evident fact that all people are created equal, that we are all entitled to secure life, liberty and happiness, is embodied by those faces I see along each parade route.
We must do all that we can to extend these ideals to the other 364 days a year, to make this sense of well-being the norm and not just the exception for a sweltering holiday in July. Together, we can achieve that goal, and thereby "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."
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