Where were you in July 1989? That was a summer of tremendous turmoil. In China, there was the great rebellion and massacre that took place in Tiananmen Square. The world was outraged. July 5, 1989, in South Africa, a President and a black revolutionary took the first steps towards peace. Nelson Mandela snuck through a back door to the president of South Africa's official residence in Cape Town. The President poured a cup of tea-a gesture of respect unthinkable under the white rule that had prevailed. Their discussion was brief, most big issues were skirted, but clearly, there was no turning back. A little more than five months later, Nelson Mandela was escorted from jail, and the rest is history.
In October of 1989 in Oslo, Norway, the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was not the culmination of Tibet's struggle, but simply one stage. In December of 1989, the Simpsons had reached cult status as a TV program. In March of 1989, Americans were outraged when the Alaskan wilderness was fouled by millions of gallons of crude oil spilled by the tanker Exxon Valdez.
In March 1989 in Geneva, Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee created the Web-and made the Internet a mass medium. The world has not been the same since.
The first section of the Berlin Wall went up in August 1961. On November 9, 1989, the first section was finally breached. The Berlin Wall finally came tumbling down. That day, the world changed forever.
Over the past 20 years, so much has changed in our country and around the world. The events mentioned are an incomplete accounting of all of the changes and turmoil that took place 20 years ago. Due to technology, the world seems to be a smaller place. Thanks to a wide range of prophetic voices, human rights around the world seem to have improved. However, as we welcome another Independence Day, there is so much more that needs to be done to support human rights and respect for all.
As a nation we are so blessed. At times, I think we fail to realize the freedoms we do enjoy. We take for granted that we can take a walk anywhere and at any time. We don't have curfews or social restrictions. We can travel around the country without the fear of being restrained or imprisoned. Freedom of speech is probably among our most valued freedoms. We can speak for or against our government and our leadership without fear of reprisal or imprisonment. We can dream dreams, and really see them happen. Our country is a land of opportunity and limitless possibilities.
However, sometimes we do not respect or appreciate the freedoms we enjoy. Every human being in our country is not always treated with dignity and respect. We continue to discriminate because of color, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economics, social status and religious belief and practice.
It is not politically correct to discriminate, but subtly it is infectious all around us. In some arenas, people have a great difficulty with diversity and difference. Conversation, dialogue and compromise are difficult dynamics to achieve. And in those unfortunate circumstances, people tend to shout and talk at each other, rather than listen and talk with each other.
The inability for honest dialogue and conversation only fuels the veins of hate and discrimination in our midst. Independence Day should remind us that we are a nation of great diversity founded on the principles of justice and freedom for all!
Recently, I had the opportunity of being in Northern Ireland for a wedding and an unexpected funeral. I was deeply moved by the sense of community in the small village where I was staying. There was a sense of camaraderie that was refreshing.
In this small Irish village when someone dies, it is a real celebration of life. Everyone comes together to support the grieving family. The wake is held in the deceased person's home. People gather to share stories and celebrate the person s life. It is genuinely a community event. People from all quarters of the community come to pay their respects. On the morning of the funeral, the church is packed. It's understood that you make whatever arrangements necessary to be present.
The small village that I stayed in was a positive reflection of Irish life in Northern Ireland. However, this small village, like most of Northern Ireland, is not without its troubles. The hostility between Catholics and Protestants is decades old. The violence and hate that has marred this Christian country is scandalous.
The Peace Process that began in the late 90 s has changed the landscape dramatically in Northern Ireland. People on both sides of the political turmoil have made great strides in living and working together with mutual respect. However, the tension still exists. So much of the Northern Ireland Struggle is incompletely known by us here in the States. Great Britain is very effective at controlling what the world press knows about the troubles in Northern Ireland.
The guns, the Army tanks and the barbed wire have all disappeared. Unfortunately, not all of the hate has dissipated. There are efforts being made within all of the schools to teach tolerance and respect for people's differences and to encourage mutuality and collaboration.
The town that I stayed in, the Catholics live in one section, and the Protestants in another. They do not shop and socialize together. Tension was emerging as I left because July 12 is fast approaching. For Catholics, that is not a good day. It's a day when the Orangemen get permits to march in Catholic neighborhoods, chanting anti-Catholic slogans and disrespectful things about the Pope. It would be similar to Mayor Bloomberg, giving the Ku Klux Klan a permit to march down Martin Luther King Boulevard in the heart of Harlem shouting their anti-black and Jewish rhetoric.
Freedom, tolerance and respect cannot just be words; they must be lived by all of us everywhere. We support injustice by our silence.