On this independence day, American's voice their opinions on the current state of the country
Saturday, the 4th of July. Maybe the most revered of our many national celebrations. It’s the day in 1776 that we declared our independence from Great Britain (although historians tell us that the Continental Congress passed the declaration two days earlier and the official document wasn’t fully signed until August). Let freedom ring. July 4, Independence Day, forever may it symbolize the birth of our nation.
I’ve gathered a number of birthday greetings from an array of colleagues and friends. I asked a simple question: what wishes do you send to your country on this 239th anniversary of the beginning of our Grand Experiment? The answers came from musicians, a woodworker, a physical therapist, a law firm professional, a journalist, a corporate coach and others. The well-wishers are a typically American group: white, black, young, older, single parents, born in other countries, born in the U.S.A..
The consensus is pretty clear: the U.S. is mostly OK with some nagging lapses and maddening mistakes. We want more from our country and we believe we have it in us to do better. Pat Wictor said “America, you are the land of promise. It is part of what I love so much about you, and it’s also why my heart breaks when you break your promises. You have both broken my heart and made me proud in the last couple weeks, and I guess that’s how our relationship has always gone. You seem ready to run with either the best or the worst that we have to offer you. You deserve our best, in the hopes that you’ll give us yours.”
That theme – come on, you (WE) can be better – ran through the responses. Ina May Wool said “happy Supreme Court rulings… now about those guns.” Vito Petroccitto Jr. sent a salute and a concern: “Happy Bday America!! Are you ok? I’m worried about ya!!! Be well!” Neil Okeson captured this theme with “Happy Birthday USA! We’ve come a long way. Still a long way to go.”
But what do these Americans want us to “do better?” One of the blueprints for the work came from Deidre Ann Johnson in a series of challenges to the country: “To celebrate, let’s retool the Constitution and take out that bit about the right to bear arms (it’s not REALLY necessary these days as we do have a military) and perhaps truly try to live by the spirit of All PEOPLE are created equal without concern of race, creed or color. Oh and how about some reparations for Native Americans and the ancestors of African Americans for the nasty bit of genocide and institutional slavery back in the day. Yeah, I know, you were young, foolish and stumbling along trying to find your way. But now you know how terribly wrong you were. So apologize and keep trying to do better.”
She added a kicker. “One more thing–how about getting rid of Lobbyists? They make it quite difficult for the government to be ‘For the People, by the people,’ right?”
Our nation is a player in the world, obviously. Douglas Ades spent a lot of time working internationally, and he challenges “In your 240th year I hope you start rebuilding your bridges, not just the physical ones.”
Rim Chon came to the U.S. as a kid, and has a singular perspective on who we are and what we mean to the world: “It’s been 35 years since you’ve welcomed me into your fold and it’s been quite a ride. You had me at “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” but I was young and and in love and blinded by your magical powers. I can see you more clearly now. I know you’re not perfect. I can see your imperfections and gashing faults. Sometimes I don’t agree with your decisions. Sometimes, your actions hurt my heart. Still, I root for you because I believe in the capacity for your growth and good intentions. This week, I’m proud to be in your fold. You did good.”
Again and again, people pointed to our dichotomous society and political life. Sacred and profane, soaring or slogging, we are a country that “can inspire and madden and reinvent itself again and again.” writes Emily Pickrell. “You are leading the technology race for renewable energy while your politicians still shout that global warming does not exist. You are the country of Obama and Ted Cruz, of Rosa Parks and Strom Thurmond, of Apple Computers and Donald Trump. May you navigate your way through future Katrinas, Challengers, Watergates and real estate blow outs with the aplomb and the creativity you have shown. Your constitution – the justification for gay marriage, for equal education access, for voting rights for all – continues to be one of your greatest assets and to inspire the world.”
I’m standing with these people. I feel really good about the country on this day of flags and celebrations. And I feel anger and dismay and frustration at our inability to get past the crud. Teri Scheinzeit summed it up: “I generally feel pissed off and frustrated by party bickering, Republicans blocking congress, troops going to war, tea party bull-shit and our privacy invaded for “national security”.But I felt enormous pride when we elected the first black president and when the Supreme court decided in favor of gay marriage. I am neither black or gay but my heart swelled with pride. Happy Birthday US. Keep making us proud.”
I embrace LaToya Fowler’s wish. “You’ve just had a stellar week. Let’s make it a stellar year!” Can we build on the progress we’ve made? Can we get past the obstructionists and grapple openly and creatively with the big issues that face us?
Here’s to the 4th of July and here’s to keeping our promises.