This year, our Independence Day celebrations were curtailed. Our annual parades were cancelled. Our large fireworks shows shelved. Even barbecues with friends and family were discouraged due to the ongoing pandemic. Yet, this Fourth of July was one of the most meaningful in living memory because it came at a time of serious national reflection. In our local communities, and in our country at large, we are struggling with questions of who we are as a people and how we can come to grips with our past.
The United States is unique in that it was founded on an idea. It wasn't forged by a conqueror. It hasn't been held together by a dynasty. It is home to diverse cultures, languages, and faiths. Its people are drawn from all corners of the earth. What brought them together is the ideal that everyone is equal and endowed with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Alas, America has never lived up to that ideal. Its history is haunted by the legacy of the lash. Its triumphal story glosses over the destruction of native peoples. Its past is stained by the oppression of minorities from Jim Crow and the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese internments and the criminalization of the LGBTQ community. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of white nationalism amidst growing inequality and persistent discrimination.
It is tempting to succumb to cynicism. Many cry out that our country is broken, perhaps beyond repair. Some see our flag as a symbol of oppression rather than an emblem of hope. Others rail against our past as a trail of broken promises scattered with shattered dreams. Yet, we must not despair nor surrender our heritage to those who would betray it.
America's true spirit has always been embodied by those who fight for freedom. The colonists who launched a revolution to overthrow the rule of kings. The abolitionists who woke the conscience of the nation and those who gave their lives to end the curse of slavery. The reformers who led a crusade for economic justice, female voting rights, and an end to child labor. The activists who took to the streets to fight for the civil rights of all regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual orientation.
Our history belongs to those who have pushed the frontiers of freedom in their time. To those who have striven and sweated, bled and died, to ensure the forward march of progress. It is they who can lay rightful claim to our ideals and our flag no matter how often their opponents try to usurp them.
At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin compared our nation to a "rising sun." Its rays have reached farther and its light has burned brighter over the arc of our history. It has lit the way for millions seeking to share in the glow of its promise. There have always been those who wanted to stop the spread of the light. Those who think it is only theirs to enjoy. Those who believe that sharing its warmth will somehow diminish its splendor. They sometimes succeed in dimming the flame of freedom for a time. Yet, it always roars to life once more in ways we can never quite predict.
Each conflagration burns away a little more hate, a little more prejudice, and a little more inequality. Each generation must pick up the torch to wage anew the eternal struggle to build a more perfect union.
Now the flame is burning bright. We must seize it. We must embrace it. We must use it to advance the cause of economic, racial, and social freedom to help fulfill the promise of our nation.
America's revolution has never stopped and now is our time to carry it forward.
Nathan Sosa is an attorney who lives in Hillsboro.
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