Today we celebrate our Veterans – we give thanks to Kendra’s dad who piloted a helicopter of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, my grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and Kendra’s grandfather, who served during WWI. It is important to us that Addison learns to honor and thank those who risk their lives to protect our freedoms. As we watched our local parade, we whispered in her ear about why were were clapping and cheering for the men and women marching down Main Street. Though she is too young to understand much of what we are saying, we are raising her to be a proud American.
I love my country. Sadly, in the days since the election, it feels more divided than any other time in my life. While Kendra and I are celebrating President Obama’s election to a second term, we have family and friends who seem convinced that the downfall of our great nation is imminent. They paint those who support Obama as godless, socialist, unpatriotic, misinformed, or stupid. As a church-going, intelligent, proud-to-be-an-American woman, those are difficult words to stomach.
Our First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Though we are guaranteed the right to free speech, I believe it is a right which should be used more responsibly than as a justification to bully those with whom you do not agree. Words uttered in hate do nothing more than to create a greater divide.
The reality is, I think we all are much more alike than different. Our founding fathers had it right when they stated in our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unfortunately, somehow these truths no longer seem to be self-evident. There are too many second-class citizens living within the borders of our nation whose lives are directly affected by the opinions and beliefs of others. As a gay woman, I have intimately experienced the oppression of laws that infringe upon my liberty and pursuit of happiness. One of the reasons I support President Obama is his commitment to eradicating the long-standing inequalities faced by women, homosexuals, people of color, and immigrants.
Individual liberty – freedom – is something I think everyone in our country values. In fact, our nation was built upon the backs of men and women who fought for their freedom and rights. Whether from the tyranny of the British Monarchy, the shackles of slave owners, or laws that prevented certain populations from the right to vote or access to fair and equal education, citizens of this country have persevered in their pursuit of the same unalienable Rights our forefathers declared as self-evident truths.
When my ancestors left Ireland for America, they were hoping to escape the longstanding oppression and racism they faced in their homeland. Sadly, they arrived in a country that painted the Irish as lazy drunks, and when looking for work, found themselves confronted with signs stating, “No Irish Need Apply.”
Refusing to give up, they worked as canal diggers and mill girls, searching for the ever-elusive American dream. Over time, they transformed from immigrants into Americans as our society came to realize not only the error of such stereotypes, but came to embrace the Irish as one of their own – no longer an “other” that threatened their jobs, security, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.
The Irish were not the only immigrants landing on the shores of this country in search of freedom and hope. Countless other ethnicities, races, and cultures have looked to America as a great nation of boundless opportunity; so much so that many risked their lives to illegally enter our borders. It can be easy to blame immigrants for our problems – using resources supported by “our” tax dollars. Especially in the current economic times, Americans are even less inclined to part with their hard-earned money, and often resent those collecting welfare checks or food stamps, whom they perceive as “living off of the system.”
The reality is, we all live off of the system, as we enjoy free public elementary and secondary education, subsidies for many things, including healthcare and tuition for state-run institutions of higher education, social security, and so much more. This is not to say that no one abuses the system – in fact, many do, and it’s downright maddening. Kendra and I teach in an inner-city school district and are perpetually amazed by the number of iPhones in the hands of students who receive government assistance. We bristle when our teenage students receive heavily subsidized day-care for their children in excellent facilities we cannot afford for our own child. Yet at the same time, the majority of our students are determined to become independent, productive American citizens – often working 30+ hours per week in addition to school, helping to feed and clothe younger siblings. They are just as resentful of those who seem greedy and lazy. To be an American is to work hard in pursuit of the American Dream, and to watch others live off the fruits of our labor incites resentment.
Yet, it is important to remember greed cuts across racial, socio-economic, and gender boundaries. Corporate greed is also rampant in this country, as huge corporations enjoy tax breaks and bailouts, and executive thieves who steal money from their workers receive mere slaps on the wrists as punishment. It is not, “the blacks,” “the immigrants,” “the gays,” or the “[insert any other demographic that is different from you here],” who are dividing our country – it is Americans, as we point our fingers at the “others,” and blame “them” for what we perceive are the problems of our nation.
Today, as we cheered for our local Veterans while they proudly marched down main street this morning, I couldn’t help but feel sad that the nation they bravely fought to defend has fallen into a petty blame game. No longer do we stand behind our Commander in Chief as a country of proud Americans – instead, we fight amongst ourselves, accusing “others” of trying to dismantle a nation we love. We need to sweep aside the animosity and return to the words of our founding fathers – everyone in this country is created equal and endowed by their Creator (theirs, not ours!) with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I was raised in a family that “takes care of its own.” Regardless of whether or not we agree with each other, when opposed by an outside force, we round up the wagons and defend each other. It is time we Americans do the same – we do not have to agree on everything, but when it comes to protecting each other, we need to extend that protection to ALL of us, and work TOGETHER to return this nation to the ideals painted at its inception, the beliefs that established us as a refuge for those looking to escape the poverty, inequality, or oppression of their native lands.
With that said, I say thanks to the men and women who have given their lives and service to protecting our lands and our rights. I am proud to call you my fellow Americans, and hope we once again become a united nation so that your sacrifices are not in vein.