The United States of America was born out of a period in world history often referred to as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a cultural and intellectual movement that began in Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Also known as the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment emphasized the importance of reason and scientific inquiry and had a profound impact on our founders and founding documents.
Our founders, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington, fully embraced science and the pursuit of knowledge as they crafted our founding documents and began building imperfect institutions that our politics have sought to improve from the beginning. As a result, both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are full of Enlightenment ideals: reason, natural laws and rights, democracy, checks and balances, free speech, a free press, individual rights, and the separation of church and state.
The word “woke” is derived from the word “awake” which means “awake from sleep.” If the charge from the Right today is that a large swath of our population is no longer asleep, but is rather “woke,” then we should embrace our “wokeness” as it is completely consistent with what the Founders had in mind for us. Perhaps we might understand those who deride our “wokeness” as “the still asleep”?
Certainly, the current crop of political demagogues in the US is hoping to ensure that “the still asleep” don’t wake up and realize that they have been deceived, gaslighted, and exploited by a political movement that, at its roots, is based upon the denial of facts, an aversion to reason, science and knowledge, with a corresponding lack of respect for the political, economic, and educational institutions in the US.
Our institutions are today under attack from those who would take us backward to a darker time in human history. We should stand with our founding fathers and embrace being “woke” (awake and enlightened) to the possibilities that are before us today to strengthen democracies around the world and to embrace the institutions put in place to make possible life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.