…With Liberty and Justice for All
This is a guest blog post by Zeke Rouse, Appleseed’s Immigrants and Communities Welcoming Intern.
Across America, thousands of communities celebrate today in big and small ways, with local and larger events, holiday fare, parades, music, and readings of the Declaration of Independence. Some of us may not get past the hot dogs and watermelon, but it is time to reflect, even for just a few minutes, about what it means to live in a country built on the principles of democracy, where the voice of the people matters. “We the people” were, for many years, defined as white, land-owning men, but this has changed over time, as laws have codified standards to make our society fairer and more just. That doesn’t make us perfect. In fact, the founding fathers aimed to create not a perfect union, but a more perfect union. It was the dream of that more perfect union that inspired leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to fight for rights to be extended to all Americans, beyond those whom our founding fathers narrowly included.
The chronicle of our nation’s first days wouldn’t be genuine without underscoring the enslavement of Black people by our nation’s “founding” fathers and continued abuse by a criminal-justice system in structures of racial control. We must also not overlook that women and people of color, including the indigenous people who resided here, were not in the mind of those that penned the Constitution.
We celebrated Juneteenth a few weeks ago, as it has been in the Black community for over 150 years since the end of slavery. This year, it had more visibility than ever with the continuing attention of the lived reality of Black Americans. Like Juneteenth, our traditional Independence Day on July 4th is a uniquely American holiday. As fundamentally American as July 4th is thought, it is an incomplete project and requires acknowledging the struggles and success on the same issues by large and essential groups of Americans.
The gap of true freedom in the United States of America has exceeded the realm of race throughout our history and into the present day, with the privilege of true freedom roped off for only a few. By truly free, I don’t mean the echelon to not be owned/enslaved. Instead, I mean the freedom to walk in your own truth devoid of antipathic judgment or any kind of harmful effect from those who do not agree with or understand that truth. Freedom may still be illusory to those individuals who do not distinguish themselves with dogmatic codes and portrayal that are maintained in our society. Freedom may still feel sequestered to those who do not have the privilege of living without moderating a part (or multiple parts) of their identities. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #LoveisLove, and #FamiliesBelongTogether are all evident instances of groups identifying a lack of equity and electing to vocalize their sentiments around that inequity to catalyze a meaningful change.
Patriotism is more than simply rising up and waving the nation’s flag or getting mad at anyone who critiques something about America. I celebrate the fact that our First Amendment rights have granted me my voice – a voice that I use to speak my mind, including to criticize the areas where America has failed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once declared: “I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.” America assured its people that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less. In our port stands a beacon of liberty with a poignant poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on her base. It says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.”
Be proud to wave the red, white and blue – but we hold this truth to be self-evident that not all men, women, and certainly not those who identify as neither, are considered equal in America today. It simply means that “We the People” must maintain the fight for this country to be the truly inclusive and welcoming nation it aspires to be.