Am I proud to be an American? That was the question on a July 4th NPR call in survey. I used the question to begin my Law and Government class this week.
I think being an informed citizen of the world contributes to both my appreciation for what we have here as well as my disgust for our current national leadership. How I balance those two realities really depends on where I want to put my energy.
I’ m a 52 year old teacher in America, and I have a good job, a 403b, a happy marriage, two adult children, and a home. If I lived in Central America, I could be spending my life savings to escape violence to seek asylum in the United States. If I were a wealthy, married Saudi, I could be paying for driving lessons and picking out a Mercedes to drive while wearing a burka. There are so many places to compare ourselves to in the world. By the grace of G-d, I was born in a nation that has continued to expand the rights afforded our citizens. Until now.
The history of our nation has included a lot of struggle and violence in the name of progress. Pilgrims and Puritans came here for the freedom to practice a religion other than the king’s. Second-born sons settled Jamestown for economic opportunity they couldn’t find in England. Colonists fought against imperial control that treated them like second class Englishmen and eventually won freedom and the power to rule themselves with liberty and justice for all. But not really.
It is interesting that the Founding Fathers created a guiding document that expressed a standard of equality and freedom, but that 243 years later we still haven’t achieved that ideal. In my lifetime, we have desegregated schools, protected a woman’s right to make reproductive choices, legalized gay marriage, allowed gays to serve openly in the military, and seem poised to allow terminally ill people to choose how they die. That feels like progress to me, but I realize that many Americans see these freedoms as threats to the moral fabric of their belief system.
So, as we contemplate our American pride in this election season, we are also contemplating who will fill the vacant seat on our Supreme Court. Our president chose from a list of conservative candidates, our Senate held hearings, and now our Senate will approve that candidate. Or not.
It is a good system of checks and balances and that is how it works. Or does it?
Why are we bracing for a fight to maintain the rights that women and gay people have won in the last 50 years? Are we going to return to a nation of closeted or sidelined people who can’t live their truth for fear of discrimination? Do we want to revisit a time when wealthy women traveled abroad for abortions and poor women suffered them at the hands of back alley abortionists? Where does it stop? Should we segregate schools and take away women’s right to vote, too? How far back do we have to go before the haters are satisfied and stop feeling threatened by equal rights and freedoms for all? I hear the cry for freedom to own guns and see the 2nd Amendment interpreted to support unfettered access. So, that freedom is okay, but we are going to more narrowly consider the right to life, liberty and justice for all?
In light of it all, I applaud the people who stand up and utilize their 1st Amendment rights:
- Practice your religion of choice.
- Support journalists who seek the truth and dare to report it, even when threatened by the head of the network.
- Speak your mind, dare to dissent, speak truth to power.
- Gather together because there is safety and power in numbers.
- Write down your grievances and share them with people in power.
G=d, please bless America.