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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Not Just a Day on a Calendar

As Americans enjoy their outdoor barbecues, ice coolers filled with beer and soda, fireworks displays, the prospect of a three day weekend, there are those that can be saddened a bit by how the celebration of the decision to enter a hard-fought struggle to wrench our freedom from the tyranny of empire has become a day of leisure, almost hedonism.
They flood YouTube and Facebook and MySpace with as much patriotic fervor as they can muster -- hoping to spark in their fellow Americans a sense of solemn remembrance and of gratitude. This, I find to be an admirable endeavor. Certainly, the blood spilled on American and foreign soil has preserved the rights that we are enjoying today. Whether that right is to enjoy a day off of work with one's family or to get blitzed on raspberry-lemonade flavored alcoholic beverages and pass out on your lawn, it is your right, and we should all be grateful for those rights.
My patriotism is, admittedly, of a slightly different kind. I view America, at 232 years old today, as very much still a work in progress. The liberty claimed in 1776 would still be nearly two centuries in finding its way to women, to African-Americans, and to many others in this country, and it still hasn't reached everyone.
Elected positions of duty in this country have become coveted (and often practically purchased) positions of power. Many Americans regard government as something apart from themselves, something untrustworthy and despicable, when, in its original design, government is supposed to be "of the people."
In spite of this, however, my patriotism is stirred by the fact that the bravery of our founding fathers in drafting and signing our Declaration of Independence is the bravery that still runs through our veins. The spirit that led a small black woman to refuse to give up her seat because of the color of her skin -- that spirit is still within us.
We have let it lay dormant for a while, but it is still there. Our congress, our judges, our disappearing governors are of our own making, but we have the ability to unmake them and re-make them as well. Margaret Mead was on the money when she said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
That is the American spirit of independence, and we owe it to the spilled blood of our ancestors to keep it alive.
Today, I would like to share with you a poem by Langston Hughes that was first published in 1938. I believe it shows how far we have come as a nation as well as how far we have yet to go, but most importantly, I believe that, if you read it closely, it shows that we not only can get there, but we will.

Let America Be America Again

By 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,

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!

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