It is common in the discourse of America, especially in the discourse of politics, to hear certain ideas come up again and again. The shape might change a bit with the particular aim of the moment, but the core meaning stays generally the same.
One such idea that I’ve heard recently and expect to hear even more often as the election looms ever closer is some version of, “If They don’t like Our country, then They should leave.”
This is such a fascinating idea to me.
First of all, who are They?
This word choice certainly lends itself to being somewhat all-purpose because it can be used for so many disparate groups, but let’s just say for the sake of argument here, whether or not we agree on the justness of it, that this refers to anyone not born in the United States.
So, having established who They are, it would mean that Our refers to anyone born in this country.
Now, things can get really messy if we scratch this most superficial layer of Our and ask more questions about who should really be included. Like how many generations must have been born here to be an Our and of what descent? Does it matter whether those generations were brought here forcibly? Does it matter if those generations had a hand in removing the Our that was already established here?
But let’s not deal with complications such as these and instead, let’s keep it simple.
Given the above definition then, I am an Our; ipso facto, Our country is My country.
So tell me, what would be the suggestion, if I said that I don’t like My country right now?
That I don’t like the direction in which it is headed?
That I don’t like the disrespect with which our leadership treats its positions and the people they are meant to serve? That I am frightened of the potential consequences of blatant voter suppression and the erosion of our electoral process? That I am disturbed by the distortion of fact, and truth, and science to achieve political ends?
That I don’t like the continued system - whether acknowledged or not - built on the belief that some people have more value than others? That I find outrageous the outrage about loss of potential life without simultaneous outrage about loss of existing, living, breathing life? That I am ashamed that we refuse to face up to this as a nation?
That I am more than disconcerted by the notion that I can’t disagree and the casualness with which this notion is bandied about given the heavy-handed response to disagreement in the form of federal agents deployed around the country and online intimidation which all too often incites very real violence? That I have every right to point out when I don’t feel as if my country is living up to its expressed ideals without being afraid for my safety?
That I consider this right to dissent sacred and that I would not be exaggerating to say that the way it is currently being undermined sends a cold shiver down my spine?
The truth the way many of Us see it is that what has made this country the greatest is not its very flawed Constitution which was far from considering everyone equal, nor its very flawed mythologizing of self-determination while not instilling any real sense of social responsibility or recognizing the incredibly uneven playing field from which we all start, nor its very flawed system of justice that is not even close to being blind, but its history of resistance.
Its history of people coming together to stand up knowing that we aren’t perfect now, nor will we be at any time in the future, but believing that we can always strive toward more perfect.
Whether or not you agree with the cause, whether the speaker for it makes your blood thrum with excitement or boil with rage, I for one can get behind someone who raises their voice and speaks - as long as they do so with thoughtfulness and respect - for something in which they passionately believe.
I don’t have to agree with them to know that this act is fundamental to my freedom.
And whether it be in the grand tradition of persuasive writing, putting bodies in the street to conduct peaceful protests, using our voices to vote, or otherwise speaking out we should be first and foremost fighting to protect this right to disagree. Because this in fact, along with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is what we are supposed to have - in right and in duty - if you keep reading.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation of such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence indeed will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariable the same Object envinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”