Friday, July 1, 2011

What America Means to Me

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This is the time of year when people celebrate the Fourth of July, touting her greatness and waving the banner using militaristic language. Everywhere you turn, there is the imagery of war, and in our politics, the implied command to love her without question. If a person does question, they are assumed to be something less than American.

That is not my America.

Some see it as an excuse for a sales event. Some brandish the red, white and blue as surely as an advertising poster, either to sell their product or to sell others on their patriotism. Seriously, is patriotism the sole venue of unquestioning devotees who regardless of their own experiences demands blind allegiance?

That is not the America I believe in.

Political pundits speak on Fox News insinuating that those with different views from their own somehow hate America, and perhaps do not belong here. Some believe we are inherently superior to people in other lands simply because of the piece of geography where they were born. Or that God somehow ordained America to be right, even when she was wrong. Some even believe all Biblical prophecy focuses on what's happening in America at any given time.

Once again, not the America I believe in. I think the word for that is ethnocentrism.

So let me share what my America is really about. I go back to our founding Mothers and Fathers. People who believed in the capacity of individuals to use their own minds, to recognize rational thought as the ultimate gift of the Creator. They were not swayed by dogmas or preachers, indeed ensuring a sufficient separation of church and state. They were willing to look at what does not work and then fix it. The movement from a confederation of states to a constitutional form of government made us one nation indivisible. Some didn't like it, even as some are trying to go back to the ideals of the confederation today. A horrible civil war was fought over that. In the name of state's rights with a goal to keep others enslaved, that bloody war had to be fought.. The struggle for true equality goes on to this very day. It was, and is, our willingness to change, our willingness to improve, that established the dream that is America.

Have we lost that dream? I'm not sure. I know it lives in me. Yet we sacrifice our liberties in the name of fear. We discard freedom for safety. That is NOT the America I believe in. Corporations want the rest of us to pay the way while a fortunate few harvest all the profit of our labor. How unAmerican can one get? We fight wars and keep alliances to preserve systems that are the very antithesis of the American dream. So often decisions are centered more upon greed and avarice. I fear that if nations can experience karma, our debt will be much greater than the national debt in the news today.

Yet still I dream of the America that can be. I'm a liberal homosexual transsexual liberty loving American woman who loves her homeland, and dreams what many ordinary folk dreamed of ever since our founding. I don't believe I'm alone in that]. A great poet said it better than I. In the words of Langston Hughes:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

- Langston Hughes

Many decades later, I echo his words. We the people must redeem... and make America again!

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