Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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The price of freedom is an active citizenry

Summer is in full swing, the hamburger patties still need to be defrosted, the family will be here any minute for the barbecue, so contemplating some historic artifact seems a completely unappealing activity.

But this will only take a minute, especially since the text of the Declaration of Independence—the whole reason for today’s holiday, never mind the charcoal grill—is easy to find in the Internet age.

Most of us have forgotten how long it is, remembering only "in the course of human events," "we hold these truths to be self-evident" and other choice phrases.

There’s a lot here. The declaration includes a poetic reflection on the duty of the governed. There’s a warning against changing government too casually but also a charge to "provide new guards for their future security" when abuses go too far. There is a litany of offenses by the king of England underscoring the decision to sever centuries-old ties and form free states. The exact form of a constituted nation would be the discussion in a future document, to be drafted when the freedom was won.

In 2010, the landscape seems placid by comparison, and in Hawaii, once shaped by its own national history and culture, the American revolutionary ideals seem remote. There is surely no cause for any upheaval now, but the time for a changing of the guard has come all the same.

This is a big election year in Hawaii, when the governor of eight years is finishing up, the city’s mayor is preparing to step down to compete for her office, and a rare opening in the congressional delegation has sparked a cascade of electoral opportunities.

The political debate will become noisy, even annoying, but it brings excitement, too. Here’s a chance to start a new game, introducing fresh players with a different set of talents.

If democracy really was a spectator sport, we could all sit back and watch. Instead, it only works when everyone plays—by voting, at a minimum. A new generation of American adults will vote for the first time, become full citizens and start the transition toward leadership roles they will inherit, prepared or not.

More of us, whatever our age, should participate more fully than simply casting ballots, either through becoming a candidate or getting engaged in an issue that can promote change and growth in the community.

Just before the signatures at the bottom, the 1776 document that serves as America’s birth certificate ends with a solemn promise: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence," the patriots wrote, "we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

Other than those who’ve served the country in wartime or made a similarly profound national commitment, few of us could claim to fulfill such a lofty vow.

The Fourth of July celebration awaits but, beyond tonight’s fireworks, so does a seminal year in Hawaii politics. The least we can do is to invest some energy in what is still, by far, the world’s most successful democracy.


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