I grew up near Valley Forge, where General Washington’s army camped the winters of 1776-1778. I remember going there as a kid. It didn’t truly impact me until we took our daughter there. As an adult, I peered into the replicas of the shacks the American soldiers huddled in during that terrible winter. How they lived in these tiny low log cabins was beyond me. The floors were the bare dirt. Food was scarce. Many of the soldiers had no shoes. More than 2500 died from starvation, disease, and exposure.
As an adult, I cried at Valley Forge. So many died so that they and their families and their families after could be free people.
Standing by or standing up
One of the things I learned from the historical record at Valley Forge is that only about one-third of the colonists wanted to break from England. Another third wanted to remain British. The final third were neutral. They were probably just too busy trying to stay alive to bother with politics.
There would be no America as we know it if these courageous people did not step forward, suffer, and prevail. The signers of the Declaration of Independence signed at great personal risk. They were considered traitors. Yet they did it anyway.
The ongoing fight
Remember that the Revolutionary War was fought so only some people could participate in democracy. Several of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. People of color and women would have to wait a whole lot longer to be part of the American ideal. My own mother was born just two years after women got the right to vote. This year we celebrate the 100th year of American women getting the right to vote. Within my lifetime, people have died so African Americans could vote freely. Voter suppression is very much alive. This democracy is a work in progress and one for which we must still fight.
Keep democracy in your hand
The documents that created our country are precious. They shaped a new shining star of freedom, a new system of government that has endured and evolved. Much is misunderstood and misquoted. I carry a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution with me. It reminds me of the sacrifices of those soldiers at Valley Forge and the many sacrifices made since then and now. It reminds me that every single one of us has a responsibility to be an informed and engaged citizen. You can get your own pocket Constitution at the ACLU’s website or various other sites.