The VanWestervelt Declaration and Sacred Texts

Sometimes just saying something does make it so.  Sorta.  For example: The Declaration of Independence.  I have another declaration to suggest we use, as individuals.  It throws the user into an immersive encounter with principles of being an American.

Rus VanWestervelt is an educator and writer in Baltimore (and distinctly, proudly of Baltimore).  You can meet him at thebaltimorewriter.org.

He is also a compassionate, contemplative philosopher (in my view), things he would not say on his resume or business card.  He has good taste in meditative music, too (so sez me).  He put six minutes of Deuter on his Samadhi Sanctuary page.

Yesterday, the Fourth of July, I had the pleasure of reading his beautiful article, A Declaration, where he reflects on patriotism in a personal way from childhood to adulthood, learning along the way that the nation does not always live up to its principles.  In his continued commitment to those principles, he reminds readers of the Emma Lazarus words at the Statue of Liberty …

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she / With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

… and he takes it much farther by doing something I don’t recall ever seeing done in school or in any public celebration or at home: he presents the complete text of the Declaration of Independence, and asks us to “Please read every word. Every single word.”  (copy below)

Then he writes, “On this day of independence, on this day that we celebrate everything that America stands for, I offer a Declaration that is a little less of the grandiose and a little more of the introspective contemplation of what it means to be ‘American.'”

With his permission, I share it here, and embrace it.

  • I declare that, as an American, I respect the rights of my neighbors, regardless of political affiliation.
  • I declare that, as an American, I open my arms to the homeless, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses. 
  • I declare that, as an American, I embrace the independence and individuality of my neighbors as long as that independence and individuality does not bring harm or injustice to others.
  • I declare that, as an American, I shout my encouraging words, my art, my music, my ideas, my beliefs of what is right for all to the world regardless of the risk of suppression or judgment.
  • I declare that, as an American, I work hard to support my community, to be honorable in my efforts, and to offer good will toward others who contribute to the wellness of our country.
  • I declare that, as an American, I embrace inclusion, not exclusion, and my words and efforts shall carry opportunities instead of consequences. 

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This Land, Independence Day, 2019

Revised & Expanded July 4, 2019

Sheet Music snapshot

Click for music sheet PDF.

I want a new national anthem for the United States.  I want it to be Woody Guthrie’s 1944 song, This Land, and give him the Congressional Gold Medal for it.

If they won’t replace the current anthem, let there be two.  And why not?

My parents’ generation fought World War II.  Actually, my father and his father were in the Navy in the Pacific Ocean at the same time during the war.  This closeness of my generation to that war made it fresh in our collective mind during my youth.

Fighting with Germans was a very popular TV and movie theme (think Vic Morrow in Combat), and we saw propaganda movies made during the war, too.  “We,” in my case, being German Americans.

That paternal grandfather in the Navy in WWII was a “first-born American” to German immigrant parents.  My paternal grandmother’s family was rooted partly in Berlin, Germany.  My mother’s maternal grandparents came from Slovenia to the coal mines of Forest City, Pennsylvania, near Scranton.  My maternal grandmother was born in Slovenia and “brought over” as an infant.  So I’m the grandson of an immigrant and the great-grandson of several other immigrants.

It’s an amazing world, where my connection to Germany was “flavored” by TV-steeped kids teasing me, calling me a Nazi because my name was German, and the Italians were Guineas and WOPS (“Without Papers” … yeah, undocumented immigrants coming over a wall thousands of miles wide in fathomless water … but they climbed that wall), and the Puerto Ricans were Spics, and the Jews were Kikes, and Vietnam gave us Gooks and there were Slopeheads before them, and the Spooks, the Niggers, the Jungle Bunnies, the African Americans, who seem almost never to get a break no matter how long it’s been since they began “immigrating,” people who are more American than almost anybody.  The nation would not exist without them.  Could we have funded the American Revolution without Black slave labor?  (And this is really “Marlboro Country” when you think about the role of tobacco in the Revolutionary economy.)

In this endless American atrocity of degrading, abusing, cheating, even killing human beings because of their color, ethnicity, nationality or religion, we can include putting an ethnic class of law-abiding American immigrants AND CITIZENS into concentration camps while members of their same ethnicity fought for this country.  This is the Japanese in World War II.

They don’t fit the immigrant model, but Native Americans were subjected to genocide, not merely because they were deemed “savages,” but because they were in the way of American “progress.”

This is America, where there are always people underfoot and people walking on them, power thriving on senseless hatred, until the tides turn.  Then, new groups become the underclass (or get added to the list of existing ones).

I guess that’s an immigrant nation for you, where they fight to get here, fight the consequences of being here because they are lowly immigrants mistreated by the “citizens,” then they go fight and kill their relatives “over there” to protect what they’ve been fighting for over here, then become allies with the enemies.  Amazing.  Pay your dues in the blood of both heart and soul, and become American.

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Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2017

Since they named this holiday for me, though people will be inclined to say to me, “Thank you for your service,” I want to say to them, “Thank you for my service.”

Naval Aircrewman Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Lanard, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-22 of USS Wasp carries evacuee off an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter following landfall of Hurricane Maria on the island of Dominica.  (As a former petty officer aboard two aircraft carriers, this picture strikes a particular chord in me.  It is so nice to see the Navy used this way.)

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Coming Home on a Forest Ghost Road

Coming-Home-coverpageIf you love the land, especially if you have family roots in a special place, read this heartwarming little article, Coming Home to Jadwin Forest by Gary Brown in the October 2013 issue of the New York State Conservationist, a magazine I enjoy and highly recommend.     Continue reading