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There is this country music program, syndicated to country FM stations every Sunday morning, called Rise Up. The host plays the song list, and in between takes calls from viewers who tell their stories of how they were changed by the Love of the Lord. Traveling long distances, stuck between FM stations, you hit this show, and it will make you cry like a children’s hospital telethon. (No I don’t have Sirius, are you serious?)
MSNBC used that phrase, rise up, for their ads. Rise up is the cry of the revolution, the call of the oppressed. There hasn’t been much rise in me since the campaign and the election. I’ve been going through the five stages of grief. I have been mentally and spiritually ill. I have been angry and heartbroken. I have been defiant, and I have been tired in my soul. Trump fatigue.
It’s been six months now, and we passed the Fourth of July, celebrating our independence. As a country, we are two hundred and forty one years old. And on Independence Day, many people took their oaths as newly minted American citizens. People like the doctor and the pharmacist who emigrated from Afghanistan thirteen years ago, and proudly claimed their citizenship, even as they remarked that now, they wouldn’t have been able to get visas, under this administration. Even so, despite the oppression, they are still happy to be here. I want to thank them.
Rise up, America. That’s the word we passed, from one to another, in 1775, in 1776, rise up and throw out the tyrant. Let us all hang together, or we shall certainly hang separately. Put your John Hancock on the line, and pledge your lives and your sacred honor. Give me liberty, or give me death.
Still. Even so. Despite everything. This country has always been one of contrasts, of vast differences, but bound indivisible by blood. What about the “liberty and justice for all”? That hasn’t always been the case, and yet it is right there, in our pledge of allegiance: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence: “. . .that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Rise up, Americans. That’s something we take for granted, that when rising up is needed, someone will answer the call. Contrasts, differences, bound by blood. Yes, we have an ugly history, but also a quite beautiful one. There were indeed the Salem with trials, but we also produced Nathaniel Hawthorne. His great-great grandfather was one of the judges in those Salem witch trials.
Yes, we engaged in the systematic genocide of Native Americans. In WWII, some of those Native Americans became code talkers, calling in artillery and air strikes in their native languages so the Japanese couldn’t intercept and decode.
There was Stonewall, and the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Matthew Shepard and Micheal Sam.
There were Jim Crow laws to keep black Americans from voting, and the opposition to the Civil Rights movement exposed Bull Connor, and Jim Clark, and George Wallace, but that movement also gave us Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, one of the most moving speakers in all our history, and a great writer as well. The movement gave us Fannie Lou Hamer, and Rosa Parks, and John Lewis.
In WWI, when black men were not allowed to vote, they served with distinction in the 369th Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” who served six months on the front lines under French command. One hundred and seventy one members earned Legions of Merit from the French government.
Women were oppressed, of course. They were thrown in jail, beaten, held without bond, for demanding the right to vote. They persisted, and they won.
Then there was Joe McCarthy, an alcoholic, a mean man with a tiny soul, that led the witch hunt of the 1950’s. But that era also produced Lillian Hellman “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashion.” That era produced Joseph Welch “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
We get all embarrassed by passion. But really, what is love of country? Did the Navajo code-talkers serve the country that slaughtered and suppressed their elders? No, they served the country they loved, were born to, and what they wanted to believe it stood for, freedom, simple human decency, and a stubborn grasp on the promise of what it could and should be.
When NPR tweeted the full text of the Declaration of Independence, some Trump supporters did not recognize it, and took it as an attack on Trump. “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Trump supporters disavow Declaration of Independence
Why did the Harlem Hellfighters sign up to fight for a country that lynched their fathers and refused them the dignity of full citizenship? Why did the Red Tails do what they did? The same country that produced the massacre at Wounded Knee also gave us also produced Freddie Stowers, the only black soldier awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in action in WWI. The country that beat down Emmitt Till, a fourteen-year-old boy, also gave us Abraham Lincoln and Juneteenth. The country that almost destroyed itself in the Civil War came together to defeat Japan and Germany in WWII. The country that created the nuclear bomb also instigated every treaty to limit the spread of nuclear arms, to reduce our stockpiles.
We blew up a church in Birmingham and killed four little girls, and we landed on the moon. With the help of black, female mathematicians. The country that refused a ship of Jewish refugees liberated Nazi death camps. The country that destroyed much of Europe also, through the Marshall Plan, fed and rebuilt Germany after its defeat.
The men that stormed the Normandy beaches went home and took jobs that women had worked admirably during the war.
This country, our country, gave women the right to vote, and decimated the first woman candidate for president. The country that passed the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and on July 30, 1965, passed into law Medicare and Medicaid, steps to insure old, disabled and poor Americans, also tries now to repeal the first attempt since 1965 to insure more Americans, and to deny 32 million people who now have health insurance.
To quote a Joni Mitchell song, “Every pictures has its shadows, and it has some source of light.” That source of light that throughout our history has served as a homing device, a beacon toward doing the right thing, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” That source, that light, bends toward justice, for all.
Take this not as a call to arms, but a call to our better selves. We have done it before, many times. Roosevelt interred Japanese in camps, and he appointed the first female Cabinet member. Time after time, we have risen up and met the challenges that faced this country. We in America know that our vote is sacred, that it is every citizens right and duty. That right has been attacked by an outside force. We can rise up, and join our local town councils, become poll workers, march door to door toplead with people to vote. That is our weapon. Over seventy million registered voters did not participate in the election of 2016. If everyone, every single registered voter, pledged to go to the polls in 2018, do you think Russia, or and other group colluding with Russia’s goals, could stop us? Hell to the no. Stop insulting voters who voted for Trump. They showed up, didn’t they? Grab anyone you know who didn’t vote and look them in the eye like a wild-eyed revolutionary, and demand that they participate in the process before voting becomes an historical artifact, instead of an organic element that keeps democracy alive.
We observed the inauguration, and the next day, watched the Women’s March.
What kind of country do you want to live in? Do you want one where political party affiliation is not so important any more, where serving the country in Washington for a limited time is seen as service, not entitlement. Do you want a country where getting re-elected in not so important as getting something done? Do you want a country that treat refugees with compassion? How about a country that once raced to the moon once again leading the world with renewable, safe energy advancement? How about a country that agrees to do its part in cleaning up the mess we make, like our mothers taught us? Would like to see a country that limits campaign donations, limits the length of time elections take, gives people a paid holiday to vote, retrains its local police forces often, sends elected officials to Congress to get something accomplished, and sends them home when they don’t? Do you wish to spend less money on a faster, meaner, more powerful military, and more on State Department initiatives that save lives and make allies instead of enemies? Do you believe that it is time women step to front to lead? Men have held the majority in power since the beginning of time. Do you really think women would do worse?
What do you really want, America? If you want your vote to mean something, first you have to cast it out there. If you want our elections to be free of outside interference, then vote. They can’t stop us all. Not we, the people. We hold the power. Let’s start using it. You want to clean up Washington? You really think that we can’t do it? Go look at those cliffs on Omaha Beach.