Had the great American patriot Frederick Douglass attended “American Voices” alongside more than 100 Durango residents Saturday morning in Buckley Park, it's likely that the former slave who wrote “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” would have approved of what he heard.
This year's program featured a series of public readings from America's founding documents that included staples such as the Declaration of Independence, as well as its citizens' seminal dissents, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Declaration of Sentiments.
The event ended the same way it kicked off: with Yvonne Bilinski, director of the Fort Lewis College Native American Center, reading the Haudenosaunee People's Thanksgiving Address – a deliberately inclusive blessing that 15 times invoked the phrase, “Now our minds are one.”
When speakers read from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the audience nodded at the usual shuddering phrases – “consent of the governed,” “equal and exact justice to all men,” “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But attendees smiled later, as William Mangrum read Theodore Roosevelt's “Conservation is a National Duty” and Ayla Moore and Brent Williams gave voice to Harriet Tubman's ferocious reclamation of the American dream:
“I had reasoned this out in my mind: There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”
Organizer Elizabeth Bussian, director of community relations at FLC, said the readings were selected to acknowledge the inspiring, complicated, brutal and often contradictory legacy of freedom in America – a republic founded by slave-owners; a democracy that proclaimed “all men created equal” but denied all women a vote, education and ownership of their own money; a revolution against tyranny that spilled more Native American blood than tea into the Boston Harbor.
“This holiday is serious,” Bussian said.
Ginger Williams, who sat in the park with her son Nigel, 1, said it was impossible to listen and not marvel at how far the country had come.
“My favorite revolutionary phrase is: 'We the people.' But I think about using it to include, not exclude, as it has been used throughout our history,” Williams said.
As Andrew Gulliford read aloud Jefferson's promises – “freedom of religion, freedom of the press and freedom of person,” three little girls, their cheeks emblazoned with face paint of the stars and stripes, ran around the green grass barefoot and laughing, worthy heirs to a more perfect union.
“It's still a work in progress,” Williams said.