October 28, 2020 Chair's Column

Chair's Column: October 2020

One must work for freedom and liberty.

By Michael J. Van Zandt

I grew up in and near Philadelphia. One of the very lucky opportunities I had as a boy was to visit Independence Hall, in the city. In those days, as you entered Independence Hall, in the entry way, underneath the steps to the second floor, you first encountered the Liberty Bell. I remember learning about the crack in the Liberty Bell and how it had rung out for Liberty and Freedom when the Declaration of Independence was signed. My sisters, brothers and I enjoyed climbing all over the Liberty Bell in those days. From the vantage point under the steps, you could see into the Great Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where the Founders pledged their lives and fortunes. As Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Now, perhaps as a sign of our times, the Liberty Bell has been removed from Independence Hall and is encased in its own building, within a bomb proof Plexiglass shelter, that allows no one to touch and feel a real part of our history. The symbolism is very frightening, when we must protect the Liberty Bell from violence. Now you must wait in line for hours to get a glimpse of the Liberty Bell from afar.

In that same Great Hall, the Founding Fathers hammered out and debated our great Constitution, that has sustained this great nation for 231 years since its effective date in 1789. Liberty and Freedom had already been hard fought and won during the Revolutionary War. In that war, the land was divided between those loyal to King George and those devoted to ending tyranny and forging a new country, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equally. Disappointingly, the Founding Fathers did not include women and persons who were in bondage at the time. The country paid for that horrendous mistake during the Civil War and later as suffragettes marched in the streets for their right to vote.

We are approaching a very significant election in 2020. Some say it is the most important election since our country was founded. I am not sure that is true. Every election is about Liberty and Freedom and the importance of maintaining those cherished principles, no matter what our differences are. No matter your party affiliation, it is Liberty and Freedom that are the paramount impetuses in our lives. Take those away and we are left with a life where free choice and happiness are distant memories.

Patriots are said to be ones who truly love their country and who would sacrifice personal safety and even their lives to protect the principles for which their country stands. We have had many patriots over the years: soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guard, policemen, fire fighters, doctors, nurses, care givers, and, yes, lawyers. We lawyers work hard every day to protect the rule of law and to ensure that due process is rendered. That is patriotic; that is Freedom loving; that is guaranteeing Liberty. There are many on the front line right now, risking their personal safety to save the lives of others from this pandemic. Lawyers are out there, still fighting for peoples' rights, for their well-being and for their dignity. Whether it is a property dispute or a commercial argument, or defending someone accused of a crime, we lawyers fight the good fight and prevent the nation from devolving into chaos. For without the rule of law and those who protect it, there would be anarchy.

Remember this as we proceed to the polls this November. We can differ in our opinions; we can respectfully decline to agree with our neighbor’s point of view; we can discuss our diverging beliefs in a civil and humane manner. What we cannot do is to commit violence to our neighbor in the name of Freedom and Liberty. That is not the American way and we lawyers strive to eliminate such harmful activities by arguing forcefully for Freedom and Liberty as our Founding Fathers would have envisioned it and as we strive every day to achieve. Preserving Freedom and Liberty and Equality for all men, women, and children from every walk of life and for every individual no matter what the circumstances is the hallmark of a good lawyer and a good citizen. 

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Michael J. Van Zandt

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Michael J. Van Zandt is a partner and co-chair of the Environmental & Natural Resources group at Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. He is the current Chair of the Senior Lawyers Division; a representative for the ABA SLD to the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources Special Committee; a Litigation Counsel of America senior fellow; and an American Bar Foundation life fellow.