Today is Independence day here in the U.S., a day where we celebrate our establishment as a free nation. It is difficult, even for one day, for our country to set aside our differences to rejoice in what binds us together as a nation. Liberals and conservatives are at each other's throats, and I expect the divisions to worsen in the coming days. We still haven't figured out how to meld our increasingly multicultural country into a working whole. Racism, sexism, ageism, and all the other isms still roam our streets and tear up lives. We still allow those with money and power to wield their influence over those less fortunate.
Yet I'm proud to be an American. Proud to live in a country where we can bicker, snipe, and sneer loudly; where we can still criticize our government without fear of reprisal; where we can, if we stop bickering, sniping, and sneering for a few minutes, actually hear what the people think--all the people, not just those in power. Yes, our way of life is messy. It can be loud. It definitely can be frustrating. But at its heart, it also, I believe, stays true to the wise words of our founding fathers:
- 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. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
These guys knew of what they spoke. The real message America sends to the rest of the world is not about McDonalds, or TV and movies, or a culture of excess. It's that governments are accountable to the people, not the other way around, and that when a government forgets that, the people have a right to bring it down and set up a new one that will be accountable to them. No one is so rich, so powerful, so omnipotent that a determined group of people can't make change happen. Our forebears did it, with some help from our friends (even back in 1776, our nascent country understood that it was fighting to become one self-governing piece of an interdependent whole). But freedom is never free--you have to want it bad enough to bear the unspeakable costs.
The other day, an online discussion group was talking about what they think defines patriotism. For me, it's loving your country so much that you'd be willing to die for it. It's not forgetting that bad things can happen in your own backyard, and that you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep your land, your people, and your ideology safe. But it's also respecting the many cultures, subcultures, species, environment, systems of thought, politics--all the physical, spiritual, and ideological things that make your country the unique place it is--the place that's worth fighting for. Even the parts we don't personally like or agree with, because without the warts, we'd be a different frog altogether.
Another important piece of being a patriot, to me, is ensuring that you keep working toward "liberty and justice for all." For me, "all" doesn't just mean "all Americans," and independence doesn't mean solitude--hand in hand with independence are responsibility and accountability as independent nations who inhabit the same planet, whose actions and inactions have a profound impact on the rest of our global network. Within our own country are worlds of differences, and within our world, universes of differences. But liberty and justice for all is something I think we can all agree with as a worthy pursuit of a true patriot, whatever country you reside in. When all people are free and treated justly, all our nations are freer and more just.
So wherever you live, please join me in a round of applause for all who cherish freedom, manifested in both small ways and large. Please join me in celebrating not only our independence as individuals and nations, but even more so our interconnectedness with and responsibility to each other. In the midst of all the flag-waving and fireworks, let's remember just what it is all the bunting is about. And if you disagree with me, let's talk about it. That's the beauty of America, all these disparate voices coming together to make a song. That's the beauty of humanity, all these disparate voices coming together to make a symphony.
Happy Independence day.