My 4th of July to-do list

In a few days we'll be celebrating the 4th of July, with picnics, fireworks, and patriotic speeches. We'll be talking about independence, using words like liberty, democracy, and freedom—beautiful words now tossed about so liberally they're essentially meaningless. And the speeches are just something to get through 'til we can have our hot dogs, ice cream, and fireworks.

In 1978 our eleven-year-old daughter was asked what she learned after our family spent six weeks traveling and camping in the Soviet Union. She said, "I learned the difference between free and not free." That's something we all need to learn, over and over again. Free is not just a word we use to promote an ideological point of view. And not-free has real consequences.

Our democracy is flailing. We have a do-nothing congress and a supreme court that is making laws instead of defining them. We have a president who is openly and deliberately blocked at every turn, despite being elected by a majority of the voters—twice.

We are an increasingly violent and polarized society; we are shockingly ignorant of the world (our anti-intellectualism streak is definitely showing); and the infrastructure that was adequate to early 20th century needs now fails even that. Our faith in government continues to slide, and we have an economy that looks more and more like a plutocracy.

Gallup poll this week found that American's belief that they have the freedom to do what they choose with their lives has dropped 12 percentage points in the last seven years—from 91% in 2006 to 79% in 2013. The United States, which likes to pride itself as the world's gold standard of freedom, now ranks 36th. We're not even bronze.

So what can we do about all this? Here's my idea: Since our politicians are hopeless, we must take charge by doing the following:

1. We learn what our rights really are, what our Constitution really says.

2. We participate in government and remember that it is ours not theirs.

3. We study issues and make choices based on fact, not belief or preference.

4. We teach civics in high schools—Americans are shockingly ignorant about their own government.

5. We educate ourselves about America's place in the world. If we want to be a global power we must understand global problems, which means reading something other than HuffPo headlines. If we're too lazy to do that we need to accept that we are not fit to lead the world.

6. We must VOTE, always and forever.

Can we do it? Of course! Will we? Probably not. And therein lies the rub. Too busy with our pocket technology, our families, our jobs; suffering from illness, poverty, and lack of education, we'll always find a way to let the other guy do it. But I'm telling you, there ain't no other guy.

Happy Independence Day!

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Find out how my family and I discovered the true meaning of freedom in 
Camping with the Communists: The Adventures of an American Family in the Soviet Union. This delightful romp through the USSR will make you laugh, gasp, and think. 

Buy it Now!