Two days ago, the United States celebrated the 235th anniversary of our declaration of independence from British Rule. Like most American holidays, we tend to use this as an excuse to have parties, eat a lot, and buy stuff – in this case, fireworks. Many Americans also use it as a time to share their views on patriotism, freedom, and the other concepts our founding fathers talked about – as if the only time it’s appropriate to bring up these words is in the context of the American history or right-wing political rallies.
But when did this language become “right wing”? When did it become cliched/ironic to wear a T-shirt with a bald eagle or an American flag? When did the noble ideal of “liberty and justice for all” become just something we repeat in public school classrooms, not what guides our daily decisions? To me, freedom is synonymous with empowerment. When we are free, we have the power to make our own decisions, free from the constraints of rules, institutions, and people who are not seeking our best interest. The freedom to love who we want to, to live in places that aren’t dangerous, to breathe clean air and drink safe water. The freedom to exist – to have a fair shot at health and happiness, just like everyone else. Isn’t that what the American Dream is all about?
But somehow, in the past 200 something years of our nation, we have created a world that does not grant us – all of us – these basic freedoms. Even though we may have 900+ channels to entertain us at any given moment or hundreds of potential purchases at the Walmart Supercenter, we are not free. Millions of Americans are shackled by debt, homelessness, hunger, legalized discrimination. We rely on food shipped from millions of miles away, fueled by sources of energy that threaten the future of our planet. We are constantly bombarded with images and advertisements tempting us into believing we are too fat, too old, too young, not pretty enough, not buying enough, and that happiness that has alluded us all our lives can finally be fulfilled with just one more pill or sports car or flashy iKindleMacPhonePad.
Yes, we enjoy many luxuries that millions around the world are not privileged to. Yes, many of us are not afraid to criticize the government or our place in society without fear of bodily harm. And yes, the American way of life has lead to many wonderful and positive contributions to the world. But there are also serious and urgent issues facing our country and our world that need to be addressed. I contend that to bring these problems into the open and criticize aspects of American society is our duty as proud, patriotic Americans. It is our responsibility to our country that was founded with such grand ideals and has come so far to recognize and combat injustices that exist within our borders.
Al Franken puts it nicely here: ““They love America the way a four-year old loves her mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a four-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world. That’s why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well. We also want it to do good.”
I’m not really a fan of the distinction between liberals and the “them” – but he makes a good point. Instead of making these terms like “AMERICA” and liberty and patriotism just empty rhetoric used by politicians and bigots, why aren’t we using them to instill the much-needed ownership of our greatest problems in the American public?
I think unsafe drinking water is un-American. I think safe, healthy, and affordable food should be a basic freedom afforded to all citizens. I think Energy Independence should be just as important as the “War on Terror”.
Because of that declaration those brave souls made so long ago, we do have many freedoms. And because of those freedoms, we have a critical choice to make. We can choose to alienate ourselves from those we disagree with, ignore the scary statistics, tune out the suffering and try to keep numbing our own pain with caffeine and TV. Or, we can choose to come together over lines that usually divide us and recognize these problems for what they are. We can use the ingenuity and spirit that put a man on the moon and organized successful civil rights movements to solve our energy, food, and environmental crises. We can choose to push for these solutions until there is truly liberty and justice for all. That means straight Americans, transgendered Americans, Native Americans, employed Americans, immigrant Americans, and every other American identity there is.
Americans have a right to take pride in their country. We’ve come a long way. But we absolutely must acknowledge, with honesty and humility, the long road still ahead of us. We must continue leading the world. But instead of being first in heath care costs, plastic surgery procedures, and incarceration rates, we must become the leaders in building a sustainable, prosperous, and just world for our children.
And hopefully, someday, they’ll set off fireworks to celebrate the day their grandparents solved the energy crisis and dismantled the bombs and created an equitable economy.
This is my American Dream.
-Andrea Love, Summer of Solutions Fayetteville