The process of growing up in the United States of America as a citizen – as a white, upper-middle-class, female, cisgendered, currently able-bodied and neurotypical citizen – has been a gradual process of disillusionment.
I’d like to speculate on the degree to which being a white student in a mostly-black school with mostly white teachers affected my worldview, but that’s unprovable. By any account, I was ridiculously naive. Not experiencing racial oppression myself, I for a long time believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had mostly wiped out the oppression of black people. I believed that when my forebears had written “All men are created equal” they meant all humans (of any gender, race or creed) and that we were continually in good faith adjusting our laws and culture to better fulfill this idea. I thought that the feminist movements had erased prejudices against women, and that I could expect to be fully equal – and so could all my classmates.
The more I grew (and pulled my nose out of my fantasy and scifi novels and paying attention to the real world), the more I realized that this was crushingly untrue. The more I learned, the more I paid attention, and the worse everything looked. (And those innocent, fantasy/scifi worlds suddenly didn’t look like fiction anymore, but creative reembodiments of real-world conflicts I hadn’t noticed were happening. Or fictional reinforcements of the same stereotypes and oppressions.)
The Fourth of July, rather than being a celebration of the United States of America and its history, for me is a time to do three things.
- Eat grilled things.
- Set off a ridiculous number of possibly illegal fireworks and set some other things (responsibly) on fire.
- Reflect on, remember, and recommit myself to striving to fulfill the vision I had of the U.S.A. when I was a child, back when I truly felt patriotism.
My country should be one whose citizenry considers all types of people to be equally worth respecting, cherishing, and empowering, where a bad person is a bad person and not a reason to smear entire swathes of the population. The United States I want relies on the latest but most reliable data when acting, domestically or internationally, and is not so attached to ideology that ineffective measures are imposed in place of ones which make sense. Where the citizenry is committed enough to care for the vulnerable, marginalized, and disadvantaged among us that we are capable of collectively sacrificing a little of our own to help support and empower them while they need it.
My country should be a country where we are not afraid to admit the mistakes of the past, to learn and teach from them, knowing that they do not mean our country is not a place worth living nor incapable of good. Where the citizenry considers those shameful mistakes to be an opportunity to avoid more of the same, and truly rise above the violence of the past.
My country should be one which values humans over money. My country should be one which uses innovation both at home and from abroad to improve the lives of its citizens and of those abroad to whom we give assistance. My country should never be beholden to corporations or dictators or others who desire power and wealth over healthy, happy humans. The country I want would be largely self-sufficient so that it cannot be held hostage by money.
The citizenry I want doesn’t complain about jury duty or voting or educating themselves about candidates, because they understand that democracy cannot function without their action. The citizenry I want does not believe everything the soundbite media says – nor do they support such a media. The citizenry I want is willing to examine itself for prejudice, misinformation, assumptions, and privilege. My fellow citizens should be patriotically willing (and able) to run for office themselves, instead of just complaining about the problems.
The government I want does not consist of the super-wealthy or corporate sponsored, but of genuinely concerned citizens who, whatever their beliefs, are truly acting in good faith to improve our country. The government I want does not rate its performance based on polls but on the nuanced feedback from engaged citizens.
tl;dr? The country I dream of is one where everyone is acting in good faith to give one another “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” without qualifiers or excuses.
So take a moment in your celebrations to light a candle, or a sparkler, or a Roman Candle, and close your eyes. Think of what you would like the United States of America to be, and as it burns/sparkles/explodes, commit yourself to working for that vision. We can make it happen, but only if every Fourth of July is a time to re-rebel against the injustices that continue to be perpetrated among us.