Today, February 16, 2015, we celebrate Presidents Day. There was a time when we celebrated the birthdays of two of our presidents during the month of February: George Washington on the 22nd and Abraham Lincoln on the 12th. Nowadays, the day is set aside to pay respect to all of those who have served our nation by occupying the highest office in the land. But to me, it will always be the day when we remember our first and sixteenth presidents and the things they fought for, the foundations upon which this country was built.
Those for whom history is something they squeaked by in order to get a high school diploma may want to consider that the earliest settlers came here in search of a new way of life – a life where the feudal lords and church hierarchy didn’t dictate the circumstances of your life from cradle to grave. People flocked to this country to carve out a new nation where every man was deemed equal. Yes, women were excluded from that compact, as were the native people living in this land. Because human beings aren’t perfect, the people of the time didn’t see past their own inborn prejudices. But still, the idea that was America—that we could create a new paradigm and a new nation by welcoming people from many nations into this new enterprise—was something never witnessed before.
Our forefathers spoke of equality and yet owned other human beings. There were those who spoke out against the injustice of it all and finally, Abraham Lincoln turned the page on slavery at a cost that was bloody but just. And yet, today, there are those in this country who would be more than happy to see slavery reinstated. There are actually those in public office who stand there, in front of cameras rolling and tell us that black people were better off as slaves than they are as free people. They insist that a helping hand from the government is worse than slavery. Not only do they say that African Americans would be better off as slaves, they preach that people—white, black, brown and whatever other color comes to mind—are slaves to “government handouts” and need to be self-reliant. They forget that when this nation was young, we helped each other because there were no institutions in place to provide that help. They gleefully paint people as “takers” without stepping back for even the smallest space of time to examine the circumstances of the lives of those “takers”—the mother abandoned by a husband who never sends child support, the veteran suffering from PTSD who is living beneath a freeway overpass, the millions who are under-educated and over-worked who can’t get by without the help of food stamps. They sneer at immigrants who only wish to get a piece of the American Dream and are willing to work hard to get it—and tell them to go back where they came from, forgetting that we are a nation of immigrants.
This Presidents Day, let’s remember who we are, where we came from and what we are supposed to be. Our forefathers didn’t build this country so the modern day feudal lords like the Koch brothers could tell us who will be our president and what our energy future will be. Our ancestors didn’t build this country so a guy like Jeb Bush could say he won’t talk about the past—because he doesn’t want to remind us that his actions put his brother into the White House, which led to one of the worst economic disasters in this country. We didn’t build this country so a college dropout like Scott Walker could dismantle unions – the organizations that were created by the working class to protect the American worker and build a vibrant middle class. We didn’t build this country so that our Congress would ignore the will of the We The People in favor of Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agriculture and Big Money.
So often we hear the cry “I want my country back!” and yet, that country, the one so fondly remembered by a certain segment of the population, is a country that discriminated against African Americans without fear of repercussions, a country where women had no economic choices, where the elderly had no social safety net to usher them through their final years, no matter how hard or for how many years they’d worked, where children were sent to work in factories instead of to classrooms to learn.
I want my country back. I do. The country I want back is the one where we honored science, where guns were not held in the same reverence as God, where it was acknowledged that Church and State were two separate things, where the news was news, delivered by respected people who didn’t lie because they considered it their duty to tell the American public the truth.
I want my country to be the one that is constantly striving to be better, to be more inclusive, to respect the rights of all and not just a few.
I want my country to be the country where we have a loyal opposition, not an obstruction at all costs opposition, where we can sit down and talk and reach compromises. I want my country to be one where we can agree to disagree without hurling names at each other.
Maybe it’s a pipe dream. But that’s what I want on this Presidents Day, 2015.
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