How Is Frederick Douglass Relevant Today?In his brilliant oratory work, Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”For Douglass, that day , more than all other days in the year, revealed the gross injustice and cruelty to which he was the constant victim. Born into slavery nearly 200 years ago, Frederick Douglass was speaking to the grim existence that slaves in America endured on a daily basis. Living in slavery was a life without freedom, human rights or dignity. The slaves were nothing more than property and tools to perform labor. For the slaves, it was a lifetime of poverty, despair and degradation.
Today, 119 years since the death of Fredrick Douglass, his words are still powerful — and still ring true for the working class. What to the working class is the 4th of July? The 4th of July reveals to us, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which we are constant victims. Working people have been the victims of wage slavery for more than 200 years. Poverty wages continue to create vast wealth and prosperity for the super rich and giant corporations. With the president and Congress talking about raising the minimum wage to $9.00 or $10.00 an hour, it is still far short of a living wage and will only guarantee that millions of working people will be slave laborers.
The United States is the wealthiest nation on the planet, yet five in six Americans will become victims of poverty during their lifetime. More than one in six Americans are dependent on public assistance; these individuals cannot enjoy the “pursuit of happiness.” It is a shame that the vast resources of this nation are being squandered by the super rich, big corporations, Wall Street bankers and the military-industrial-complex while the ranks of the poor and homeless continue to swell.
Today, we talk in terms of the “1%” and the “99%.” But the 1% and 99% have existed since the Declaration of Independence. During the many years of slavery, on the plantations of the Deep South, there was the 1% and the 99%. In the industries across the United States, there has always been the 1% and the 99%. This is the history of the United States. In practice, The Declaration of Independence was never an instrument to address the wellbeing of slaves or working people. Frederick Douglass said, “There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” Was Frederick Douglass referring to the 1%, the wealthy elite living in the United States? Yes. It was the 1% then and it is the 1% now: the wealthy elite.
During the years of slavery in America, slaves had no privacy or rights, and were subject to beatings and death. Today, officers sworn to protect and serve – to protect and to serve the interests of the 1% – continue doing this in neighborhoods and streets across America. During 2011, Kelly Thomas, homeless and mentally ill, was cruelly and violently beaten by police on the streets of Fullerton, California. So what reason is there to celebrate justice?
During the years of slavery in America, slaves were under constant surveillance. In the 21st Century, the entire nation is under total NSA surveillance. We have no privacy in our homes, at work, or on the streets. What did the U.S. Constitution mean to the slaves? What does the U.S. Constitution mean to the current American working class? Nothing more than a piece of paper, a hollow document. We are reminded by members of Congress that Constitutional rights are only privileges; and the Bill of Rights and civil liberties are only fading memories of stolen guarantees.
The slavery that exists in the 21st Century America is not defined by color, it is based upon class — the working class. It is slavery custom designed for the 21st Century. Too many of us live in poverty, work for poverty wages and retire in poverty. The working class is a vast labor pool only to be exploited to increase the wealth of the super rich — the new masters, the 21st Century plantation owners.
Working people in America are living a lie; there is no cause to celebrate liberty and freedom in America. Frederick Douglass so eloquently stated, “Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.” He was right then and now.