By Robert Kesten, guest columnist, Sarasota Herald Tribune, June 29,2021
Recently I was running past the Sarasota Fairgrounds just as a message flashed on its entrance billboard. The message was promoting the July 3 “Rally to Save America” event at the fairgrounds, and it made me wonder: What was the rally aiming to save? Did America need saving? What does it mean to save a nation?
This nation is considered by many to be the most successful to grace the planet. It has the longest standing democracy. It has the world’s most diverse population. It has private and public universities that have long been the envy of the world. It has a robust – if uneven – economy. And it has a historic willingness to struggle with change. Is this a nation in need of saving?
Yes, our nation was and remains torn, even confused.
It was a nation that was born embracing the practice of slavery – and though it did eventually grant freedom to slaves, it effectively re-enslaved them through Jim Crow laws. It was a nation in which men professed to love women – yet treated them like possessions. It was a nation in which women won the right to vote – yet still had to fight to equally enjoy other basic rights.
And there are similar paradoxes in today’s America:
Today’s America wants people to work – yet we are fine with Americans being paid substandard wages. We are angered when workers ask for livable wages – yet we have no problem with their bosses taking home huge salaries. We are a religious nation – yet many of us rebel against following the teachings of our faiths.
But what is best about the United States of America is that it remains a work in progress. It remains a great experiment in self-government.
Yes, we backtrack. Yes, we make mistakes. But in the end we make progress that continues to benefit more and more Americans – and continues to inspire more people around the world to do better.
We are also the nation that put a human being on the moon, required elementary education and made massive improvements in medicine and science.
Is that a nation that needs to be saved? And if so, by whom and for what purpose?
This country has endured and it has prospered. No, not always for everyone, but we are making progress even when we fight tooth and nail against achieving it.
Our best leaders seek to unite us; they seek to find common ground among our diverse people. And they also view the differences we find in our families and in our neighborhoods – and from sea to shining sea – as strengths that give us a unique edge over other countries.
When I think of the brilliant statesmen, stateswomen, artists, business leaders, teachers, scientists and others who have called our shores home, it leads me to ask this: Are we really a nation that needs to be saved – or are we one that still must endure the growing pains of adolescence?
Without an eye to the elections of 2022 or 2024, I am hopeful the words and message shared on July 4, 1776, by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin will be the words shared in Sarasota on July 3, 2021.
Sowing seeds of division, creating an illusion that America needs to be saved and suggesting that some Americans are not Americans is not the way to kick off another celebration of July 4 – a day that around the world remains a symbol of a shining city on the hill.
While other words might be spoken on July 3, I hope you will join me as I read those that still unite and inspire us – just as they did our founders more than 200 years ago.
“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 . . . ”
Robert Kesten is a Sarasota resident and CEO of the Shulamith Center for Human Rights Integration and Learning.