Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Still and Always an American

It's taken me all day to think about what I'd actually want to post today. I've spent several weeks working hard over in Virginia for John Kerry. I've put alot of miles on my truck, bought alot of expensive gasoline, carried many tanks of helium, stuffed thousands of envelopes, moved tens of thousands of pieces of literature, stood at Metro stops all day, got sunburned in November, stayed up too late, and got up too early. I don't know if I'd do all those things for any of my friends, but for John Kerry, with whom I've only had the pleasure of shaking hands once for about 5 seconds, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

John Kerry and his campaign this year has embodied something good about America. And it is this goodness that I've been reflecting upon all day. This morning, when I was most distraught with the election results, I, like many other true Democrats, considered what a move to Canada would be like. How could I continue to live in a country where 11 states passed ballot measures that stripped rights from thier citizens? How could I continue to live in a country where the dominant reason for choosing a Presidential candidate was "values"? Where everyone knows that "values" means "gay hatred" but no one in the media is willing to speak the truth? Where the deaths of 1000's of our young people in Iraq makes no difference to a majority of voters? Where the presence of 40 million citizens without healthcare is ignored by a majority of voters? How could I live with myself?

By the afternoon, I was drawn not to Canada, but to an area of hilly farm country in Northern Maryland. On that smallish 5 square mile patch of land, otherwise known as Antietam National Battlefield, 23,000 Americans laid down their lives for some higher purpose. September 17th, 1862 was the bloodiest day in American history. For several hours in the morning of that day, one soldier died every second.

Niether the old black and white pictures, nor even my imagination seemed to do justice to the surroundings. I felt my heart sink into my stomach as a movie about the battle showed Union re-enactors charge across a bridge into Confederate snipers. What were they thinking before they died? What were the snipers thinking before they killed? Why did these men participate in such a horrible day?

The movie also showed how Lincoln visited the Antietam battlefield about two weeks after the the battle. Largely he was there to convince his top General, George McClellan, to pursue the Confederate forces and defeat them (McClellan refused, setting the stage for three more years of war). However, Lincoln also visited with the wounded of both sides. His writings show that he was humbled by the experience. The fact that he was responsible for the tragic situation that many of these young men were now in, weighed heavily upon him. Perhaps our American mythology allows us to see Lincoln in too kind a light, but I truly believe that he would have traded places with one of those wounded men in a second had it meant that the war would have ended with the republic preserved. The fact that Lincoln could expose himself to so much self (and public) doubt and order other men into actions that were highly contrary to his inner being shows how much he believed in the American Republic and the ideals that it was founded on.

I will stand up for the American Republic. I will not run, even though yesterday's election shows that the forces of hate outnumber the forces of compassion, even though the forces of ignorance outnumber the forces of enlightenment, and even though the forces of fear outnumber the forces of hope. The America that can elect a brand new Senator who can utter these words:

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief--I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper--that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America--there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

is an America that is worth fighting for. The fact that this new Senator does not have the same color skin as I do, makes America even more worth fighting for.

In military terms, the battle of Antietam was a tie. The Union army advanced about 200 yards during the course of the day. Nearly 15,000 men were traded for that tiny strip of land. On the other hand, those 200 yards enabled Lincoln to end slavery with the Emancipation Proclimation. 200 yards can be a long way on the march to freedom.

Today, I am proud to be an American. I plan to continue to make America better 200 yards at a time. Yesterday's loss is a only a minor setback. The ideal of an America for all Americans is far too important to run away from. The road is long, and we will reach a better place. Those 23,000 men gave the ultimate sacrifice to the American ideal of that better place. I will do my best to walk behind them.


At 1:26 PM, Blogger maki-girl said...

Excellent entry hoagieboy. I fully agree with you, and didn't quite feel so depressed about the whole election thanks to the bright spots, as you wrote about, and also the strides Democrats made in Vermont. Senator Leahy (D-VT) is a senior Democrat in the senate and I hope he will have some sort of good influence.


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