Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Field by the River Thames

An unassuming meadow on a sunny day in October 2014.

I had gone out of my way to walk across this field. Earlier that day I had traveled to the town of Staines, a short distance from London's Heathrow Airport. Next morning I would catch a flight to Athens, Greece, the cradle of democracy.

After checking in to an old inn set on the River Thames, I followed a path along the river. At Runnymede I walked across this field.

799 years earlier King John sealed the Magna Carta, probably in this field. The charter gave rights to the powerful, while excluding people like me.

700 years after Magna Carta was issued, my grandmothers still could not vote. Neither could my paternal grandfather because he did not own property. Although his country denied him the vote, he would sacrifice his life for his country on another field, this one in Belgium.

Don't get me wrong, the Magna Carta is an important document, but myth has overtaken fact. It was for nobles and freemen, it excluded the majority including serfs and Jews.

Within weeks of its sealing, the Magna Carta was overtaken by another document. It would continue to be overtaken right into the modern age. Exactly 800 years later we still haven't got it right. We imbue wealthy corporations with rights that overwhelm individual rights. In some parts of my country people are trying to make it more difficult for the poor to vote.

Freedom for everyone is still a dream.

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