On July 4, 1975, America proudly celebrated its Bicentennial as the world’s greatest nation while Poland was a suppressed Soviet satellite state.
Poles had no right to free speech, were hungry and impoverished. If you wanted a job, you played ball with Communist Party bosses. If you disagreed with their ideology, you likely were imprisoned. Poland was a rather bleak land which had not recovered from the German Blitzkrieg in 1939.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Business Week program started at Central Washington University as a way for high school students to experience our nation’s dynamic market-based economic system. It was an idea germinated at the Association of Washington Business by Yelm grocer Hal Wolfe and Dr. Jim Brooks, CWU president. It migrated to Poland twenty years ago.
When Business Week started, Lech Wałęsa, founder of the Solidarity Movement, was jailed by Communist Party leaders for violating the right to organize shipyard workers in Gdansk. Karol Józef Wojtyła was Archbishop of Krakow and Ronald Reagan was California’s governor.
Walesa formed the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as Poland’s president from 1990–95. Walesa led peaceful protests—not riots.
In 1978, Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II. In 1979, he startled the Communists by returning to his native land. His 10-days in Poland drew millions—-peacefully. The embers of freedom lit by Walesa suddenly became a bonfire.
Then President Ronald Reagan sealed the deal in 1987 appearing at the Brandenburg Gate dividing east and West Berlin and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down this Wall!” Twenty-nine months later after intense East German protests, the famed gate opened and the wall started tumbling down.
This July 4th we need to remember that peaceful protests are important to bring about change, but rioting, burning and looting are impediments to progress.
People peacefully calling for reforms in policing, equality and changes to improve opportunities for everyone are needed. However, rioters taunting and threatening those attempting to maintain public safety, looting businesses, and ransacking and burning stores and offices, destroy people’s ability to carry out meaningful change.
Complicating systemic changes is the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues to hit small businesses hard, particularly those owned by minorities. For example, in mid-June, the Wall Street Journal reported the number of active black business owners fell by 41 percent.
WSJ published data from economist Robert Fairlie, University of California, Santa Cruz, who wrote the number of working business owners plummeted from 15 million in February 2020 to 11.7 million in April. That 3.3 million is a stunning 22 percent drop.
Minority business owners were hit hardest. About 441,000 black, 658,000 Latino, 1.1 million immigrant and 1.3 million women businesses disappeared. For women, one of four businesses closed.
But what seems lost is the private sector, allowed to invent, can solve problems in new ways. Poland experienced the iron-rule of government which controlled every aspect of its people’s lives. It stagnated. While America is not the Poland of 1975, it is drifting rapidly to a nation where the government becomes the employer and economic engine.
As we celebrate our independence on July 4, we ought to remember that enterprising people ultimately create a better life for all of us.
Too often, Americans forget we are fortunate to live in a governmental system which allow us to peacefully change. Occasionally, it needs a good tuning up and that time is now. It is time to build upon our strengths rather than rip America apart.
We need to push our political leaders to work together now and not await the outcome of the November elections
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.