What happens when words and ideals meant to unite a people, unite a nation, become nothing more than hollow phrases and the core of subversive behavior?
We’re seeing it before our eyes every single day, led by those who pretend to be all about making America great, but in reality, are the nexus of tearing it to shreds at every opportunity.
Watching the recent CBS “Sunday Morning” interview with Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, founding members of “The Fifth Dimension” pop group from the late 60’s and early 70s, made me remember back to one of the very first albums I ever owned. As a result, it left me dismayed to see that as a nation, we claim to be enlightened and learned from our mistakes, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Let’s hit the wayback button.
Not even a teenager yet, I sent in my penny and joined the “Columbia Record Club” as I was delivered a new cassette player from my grandparents. Little did they know the musical soul they had unleashed.
You see, my parents weren’t very keen on experimenting in music. Dad remained the simple Sinatra era, Mom had her Longines Symphonette collection of every possible instrumental there was. Neither of which did anything at all for the musical experimentalist who was growing up in the most creative and inventive musical era ever.
Along with not having much musical push from my folks, there was another impediment before me.
My uncle, you see, was a “God Squadder” who subscribed to monthly bulletins from the church, and in them were edicts on what music NOT to allow your kids to listen to. Mom wasn’t at the zealot level, but she read the flyers and, well, there you go. I had to find my music somehow. Thankfully, I had an excellent stereo in my bedroom that allowed me to flip constantly between WABC 770 and later WPLJ-FM in NYC. There were no other choices. Sure, there were oldies and local stations. But “Musicradio 77” was my welcome earworm, musically educated from the playlists of Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie and their peers.
One of the first 12 tapes to arrive, along with “Abraxas” by Santana with the incredible “Black Magic Woman” single, (banned for being racially offensive), “Working Together” by Ike & Tina Turner, (banned for being inciting of anti-religious ideals), and the soundtrack from “Woodstock”, (BURN IN HELL FIRE BANNED thanks in large part to “The Fish Cheer” from the almighty Country Joe & The Fish), was “Portrait” by the 5th Dimension. WABC was playing their music a lot as they were a #1 chart topper, and the harmonies were simply magnificent. “The Age of Aquarius”, “Puppet Man”, and “Feelin’ Alright” just a few of their tunes that I drove into the ground and couldn’t get enough of.
The 7th track on “Portrait”, (side 2), is called “The Declaration”. I had zero idea what it was all about, thought it was just a filler. Turns out it was part of a medley that included “A Change is Gonna Come” and “People Got to be Free”. “The Declaration” was the preamble to the Declaration of Independence set to music. Of course, when it first warbled from my speakers, I thought, “Hey, I KNOW these lyrics!”
That song, and the medley it preceded, make an impact on me. I never forgot the power behind it, the passion in bringing these words to life, but it was only much later that I learned a few things about that song, and also came to a few conclusions.
Interestingly, some new conclusions based on where we are as a nation here in 2021.
“The Declaration” was a hit on college radio stations at the time, but made almost no impact on the pop market. Stations refused to even put it on the playlist, thinking it “subversive” and “inciteful”. Decisions such as that even went to Armed Forces Radio, where the song was banned outright. Keep in mind the era this was in, and it’s easy to understand why singing the Declaration of Independence by a pop group wouldn’t sit well with some people.
Think about that for a moment. The words of the most important document in our history, one of the most critical concepts placed on paper in world history, were considered dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, they had to be kept from an unsuspecting population in dire need of protection.
One major reason why they were deemed dangerous is rather evident, and revealing, about where America was at that stage in our societal development.
They were sung by 5 black people, at a time when race riots were tearing America apart. A time when police departments were treating African-Americans as little more than wild animals. A time when black children were being segregated and shoveled into corners where those in power hoped they would simply vanish. A time when political leaders gave lip service to the cause of equality, and showed the world that words on a piece pf parchment were, at convenient times for them, little more than spit and bluster.
Here were 5 immensely talented black performers, raising their voices to, in a few moments, remind everyone the principals America was founded upon, and that freedom should be the only thing standing at the center of our communal song.
Here they were as a group, having lived amidst the pain inflicted upon an entire race by those in authority. They were speaking from their experiences and hopes that America could learn to live by those sacred words, put them into motion, and truly enact meaningful change.
Fifty one years later, the words are the same. Sadly, so is the reaction to them in many ways. This time, it’s to how those words have been weaponized, and how little they mean to those carrying the torches.
The recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in Orlando FL provided, yet again, all the evidence one needs to recognize that while certain people bluster about being staunch supporters of the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, a good number on both and no side use those words as a patriotic shield, masking the derision of America.
“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”
These are facts that do not have to be taught in a classroom, nor written down on a piece of paper. There can be, and should be, no question that we are all equal. Whomever, or whatever you believe placed us here, we are all born with the exact same rights.
“That upon these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
One simple tenet of existence. No one can, or should, seek to take these inherent values from anyone. Anyone, meaning any person of any color, any creed, any belief, any gender.
A good number of politicians today, especially those who have been given by the people let us not forget, a measure of power, daily and without so much as a second thought twist and despicably abuse those words for their own ends. They do so in order to enrage their followers. They maintain this posture in order to remain in power and be fed from the public trough. They belittle those deemed unworthy of their coven.
For a group of people who claim at every opportunity how passionate they are about protecting and defending what is America, they instead wantonly and all too easily spit on the Founding Fathers and their wisdom.
Fifty one years later, thanks in large part to them, America has truly failed to address with honesty and candor what those words meant then, and what they should mean today. People of every non-white race have few reasons to believe they are considered by these cowardly “leaders” in fostering a nation that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Let us not merely state that obvious notion, however. These people are often color-blind in their use of such words, and will gladly destroy anyone who stands in their path to power.
I am proud to be an American, but not proud in the slightest of what they are doing to a nation that should stand for more. I, like many others, hear and read those words from learned men of long ago, and believe they can and must still resonate into current days. The kid was who captivated by the musical manner with which they were presented, can still hear it in his head every day, and can only shake that head in confusion as to why the words are so difficult to grasp and carry to fruition.
I don’t believe all politicians to be evil, nor do I believe all of them to be saints. Finding fault with them all is easy. Finding hope has become the true mission, one that becomes harder every day with the spewing of rhetoric, propaganda, misinformation, lies and desires of the power mad amongst us.
Hope can be found. All one has to do is read, or listen, to those words written so long ago. Then realize they have a power that is being suppressed and ignored by those who harbor no good will for all the people.
Ask them to repeat those words from Founding Fathers they so easily toss off as individuals they honor. Ask them to define them. For, you see, there is no definition to be made. The words are simple direct, and ambiguous.
They are true to what America could be, and they are abused by those who want America to be what they desire. No matter who is damaged in the process.
Lip service is not freedom. Actions speak louder than words.
Now, what are we prepared to do?