Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A More Perfect Union

Happy 4th of July!

Having just vowed to write fewer posts about myself, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the 4th of July, and what America means to me. (Hey, I never claimed to be consistent.)

Friends and relatives are often surprised when, in the course of conversation, I reveal something that marks me as a big ol' America-loving patriot. They think I've got some sort of beef with this great country because I'm liberal, or because I'm black, or because I think the war in Iraq is both a tragedy that will haunt our nation for the next century and a harbinger of our falling international stature.

But what they don't get is that I consider having a beef with my country to be my civic duty as an American citizen. We declared our independence because we wanted the right not just to debate with our government, but also change it. And for two hundred and thirty one years, Americans have been disagreeing with government and doing what they can to change what they don't like.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The very first civic goal mentioned in the preamble to the constitution is that of forming a "more perfect Union." Perfection is not an attainable goal. If a thing can always be more perfect, can the quest to improve it ever stop? No.

This is what I love about my country. Our most important document enshrines the goal of continuing improvement (and, given the size of our modern self-help industry, most Americans share that goal--at least when it comes to their personal lives). So, while the founding fathers may have been sexist, racist, slave-owning douches who talked high but lived low (I'm looking at you, Jefferson), the process of continually improving government, of striving for a more perfect union has ensured that this great-great granddaughter of slaves has the same freedoms under the law as every other American (as long as I don't try to marry a woman).

America isn't perfect, but I've always loved the way we keep striving for a better, more equal government. The only thing that has ever or will ever derail our progress is when Americans stop debating and disagreeing. When Americans let themselves get fooled into thinking that disagreeing with the government means disagreeing with America. Nothing could be fur from the truth. Every time we let the government take away our freedoms, every time we shut our mouths when some talking head accuses dissenters of "treason" wether are betraying our country's first and most important goal: to form a more perfect union.

So this July 4th, I'm going to write my senator and tell her to give Dick Cheney hell for keeping secrets from the people who pay his salary. I'm going to write the mayor and tell him how much I hate the potholes on my street. And I'm going to write the president and tell him he's a douche to imply that people who disagree with his administration hate America or hate freedom, because as far as I'm concerned, there is no greater service an American civilian can perform for her country and for freedom than to stand up and disagree.