We must not allow 2022 to kill the spirit of 1776

Forty six years. So much time has passed since the first and last time I directed a summer theater production.

It was my own version of “1776,” written from memory of the film and lines I copied while listening to the album. After two years of watching ‘Bicentennial Minutes’ on television, which recounted the events surrounding our struggle for independence from British rule, I felt proud of this country and the ideals it embodied. Writing, directing and producing “1776” seemed like the perfect way to celebrate our nation’s 200th birthday.

It had an extremely limited edition – only one performance on July 4, 1976 – but the reviews, which I also wrote, were excellent.

However, the production was not without its challenges. For one thing, the casting was difficult. I was limited to neighborhood kids who were available and willing to be on my show. This eventually led me to cast a 6-year-old girl in the role of George Washington. Since Washington didn’t have many lines, I told her, in my directorial wisdom, to stand a little apart and try to look taller.

But despite these and other difficulties, including a lack of costumes and sets, every neighbor I invited to the play turned up. Although this had less to do with her desire to see a dramatic re-enactment of our nation’s birth and more to do with my parents’ well-stocked bar. In keeping with the occasion, both entry and drinks were free.

I remember thinking of our country’s next big birthday on July 4th, 2026 and wondering how old I would be when the United States turned 250 years old. After some quick calculations, I decided that the answer was that I would be old. But that was okay, because I couldn’t imagine a happier place to live than in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Forty six years. For so long I had to discover how idealistic and naïve my views in 1976 were. Yes, this country has not always adhered to the principles of equality and inalienable rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, but I have always been confident that through advocacy and voting, we would eventually correct course.

During my law school I learned to respect the US Supreme Court as an advisory body that took seriously its role as the final court of justice. It was the early 1980s, and I had seen how, in the years after World War II, the court, composed of judges appointed by both political parties, understood the words and spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, would be meaningless if they did not apply equally to all people.

A highlight of my law school education was attending hearings before the Supreme Court and then meeting with Justice Harry Blackmun, who delivered the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade wrote. I was struck by the experience that while our justice system is not perfect, it is superior to all others. One of the plaintiffs in court that day was the Defender Association of Philadelphia, where I would later serve as an assistant public defender. This job has taught me that if the words “with liberty and justice for all” are to be anything more than an empty recitation, it takes constant vigilance.

A matter of weeks. That’s how long it took for my pride in our justice system to turn to anger. Physical autonomy, separation of church and state, the reading of Miranda rights, and states’ right to legislate on safety by making sane gun laws have all gone out the window. And the court has signaled that government’s ability to protect the environment, marriage equality, LGBTQ rights, access to contraception and defamation laws are next on the chopping block. Apparently the judiciary is having a sell-out.

In the midst of this sweeping dismantling of legal precedents, we learn of a well-orchestrated conspiracy to overturn the legitimate results of a presidential election. This violent coup attempt, which some – including the former president – apparently wished had been more violent, was plotted, plotted and covered up by people who swore an oath on a document they clearly do not believe.

246 years. For so long, a group of powerful and privileged men have risked everything for the ideals of justice and equality. We owe it to them to keep the ideals of the American experiment alive by speaking to one another, advocating for change at all levels of government, donating to causes and campaigns that respect the worth and dignity of all people, and by voting. For if we don’t, by July 4th, 2026 we will have returned to the days when the majority was ruled by the tyrannical few.

none. The amount of time we have to waste. I’ve grown a lot since directing 1776, but my belief in the American people to do the right thing hasn’t changed. I will not be doing another show for our 250th birthday. But if we make it, I promise the drinks are on me.

Betsy Bitner is an author from the capital region. [email protected]

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