Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A digression on pride

I was proud of my country today, for the first time in my life.

I have always admired the founding documents and the values on which this country was built. I have always known I was lucky to be American. But for 38 years I have often felt apologetic for my country, embarrassed by it, sad for it. When I've felt surges of hope, they've been dismissed almost instantaneously, followed by the scary realization that more than half of the population of "my" country (or at least of the voting population) has shockingly different values than I have:

My "fellow Americans" admire chumminess over intelligence, gut over careful thought. They would rather listen to 2000-year old testimonies of hearsay than hear what's going on in front of them right now. They believe a lifetime of suffering for others is not only tolerable but inevitable for the success and comfort of the lucky. They believe in breaking up families and denying children loving parents if those parents don't have the proper mix of genders.

I was born after the moon landing, after Martin Luther King Jr., after Jackie Robinson, after the allied defeat of the Nazis. Instead of heroes and major events of national import, I have lived to witness 9/11, the Challenger disaster, the Iraq war, steroids in baseball, the rapid ruin of the planet from our over-consumption and blind burning of fossil fuels. I've seen a major economic collapse. There's been genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur without significant American involvement. American successes have been driven by greed and capitalistic forces during my lifetime instead of a desire for better lives for everyone.

I was very proud of my state of Massachusetts in 2004 when it claimed that allowing only heterosexual couples to marry was unconstitutional. I am excited by Al Gore's 10 year challenge to "Repower America" from July of this year. If we can actually get there, I hope to be celebrating the accomplishment with my (then) teenage son and daughter.

Today, however, the whole country spoke loudly with a voice that, finally, sounds a little bit like my own. A voice filled with hope, eager to pursue real challenges in order to benefit more than just a handful of citizens. Today we are a country that wants to lead by example, not by waving a fist. We elected a man for president who could have been another man's property in this country until 1865 and couldn't legally vote until 1868.

Laws alone don't do it, though. Racism didn't just go away because there was a new amendment. Like unfavorable genetic traits, the ignorant, harmful, dangerous ideas of the past must be bred out of the population. Barack Obama in the (formerly!) White House is so much more powerful than a law on paper, it is a demonstration, an example. After all, it's harder to justify a racist rhetoric to your children when the elected leader of the country is black! This isn't the choice of a few lawmakers in Washington, this is the voice of millions of people.

I want us to ride this wave. I want to see other things in my lifetime come from the focused efforts of like-minded Americans. I want to see us give health care to everyone. To beat cancer. I want us to figure out a sustainable way to feed the population good, healthy food. Our national goals should exist on a plane separate from capitalism. I am eager to direct my tax dollars and time towards matters of great import, and I'm damn happy the country spoke as it did today.

I'm proud of my country.

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