Almost seven decades ago, our forefathers took to the skies and the sea in a decisive battle that would decide the fate of the Pacific Theatre in World War II. The Battle of Midway started on this day in 1942 and showed to the world the incredible toughness and resolve of the United States of America. We owe a tremendous debt to those who served and protected our freedom in those most perilous of days over the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Fast-forward to this day–June 4th, 2011. We aren’t at war with Japan or Germany, but our problems are real, and they are trying. College graduates, saddled with student loan debt, are finding it more and more difficult to land a decent job; families from Omaha to Odessa are finding it more and more difficult to pay the bills and keep their homes from foreclosure; the price of everything from health care to gasoline to lunch meat has got us wondering what more we’ll have to sacrifice simply to make ends meet and keep those dreaded creditors off the phone.
Our politicians and media personalities routinely divert our attention from one sensational claim or complaint to another, like fun-house mirrors at a carnival. But when one man or woman speaks up, and wonders aloud why we should support tax cuts for those who are already rich and living on millions; or why there are so many unemployed and homeless veterans on the streets; or why we’re spending billions of dollars per day in Afghanistan and Iraq, but hem and haw at financially supporting our neighbors when disaster strikes–those people are shouted down as naive children or vile traitors.
So many tell us that we stand for nothing; that our trials and tribulations and hard work are altogether worthless. It is prudent, then, to ask ourselves: What is it that we stand for?
Do you see this flag behind me? It has flown in glory during battle and in pride during peace.
Each star represents the individual brilliance of our fifty states; each stripe represents the blood, the sweat, the dirt caked on calloused hands, the tears streaming down faces of quiet desperation and proud determination. Each singular thread of fabric represents our mothers, fathers, children who grew up maybe a bit too quickly after all, brothers and sisters who laid down their lives before we had the chance to get to know them fully or tell them that we loved them truly.
This lauded cloth was sewn by folks living paycheck-to-paycheck; sold by others lucky enough to simply hold down a job paying minimum wage; raised by soldiers and sailors and schoolteachers who serve so that our flag might fly and mean something deeper than a price tag on a warehouse shelf.
This flag has been saluted–respected–hand-over-heart by billionaires and business moguls; janitors and assembly-line workers; the destitute, the blind, the deaf, the downtrodden, the forgotten.
The simple truth and treasure of America is that this flag flies for everyone–from the saints to the sinners; from the clean-hearted to the cheats and con-artists. Yet this flag does not judge–it does not wave less vigorously for some than it does for others. It does not turn its back on its countrymen, no matter their actions or decisions or lot in life.
It is for this flag–this grand old flag, this high-flying flag–that we stand here today. Our pledge is to stand by our fellow countrymen without prejudice or bias; for our ideas and our policies to fly high above the easy ways out–the pettiness, the selfishness, the “what’s in it for me?” attitudes.
We reject as false the notion that kicking our brothers and sisters to the curb, telling them “so be it” or to fend for themselves is any way to achieve lasting prosperity or that first great American ideal: liberty and justice for all.
Every fiber, every thread is essential to the integrity of our national fabric. We spend so much time judging one another that we miss the most essential calling: to love thy neighbor.
No political idea should cloud our vision; no trumpeted-up division should sever our union. The political debates among us should not be to pariah our neighbors, but should serve to reinforce our union and strengthen our prosperity. We–the people–are the greatest form of capital in this country, and no political ideology or prognosticator should serve to cheapen that.
Our flag—are we proud of what it flies for? Or is it simply an empty symbol, a forgotten promise from long ago?
If you care about your fellow man; if you are ready to not simply pledge dollars, but your hopes and dreams and livelihood to all your neighbors; if you know deep within that the United States of America is more than a collection of dollar signs–that she is a living, breathing, limitless people–then we stand together. We live together. We fight together.
Let us not walk timidly before the eyes of God and posterity. Let the word go forth that on this day, when the critics mock us and the skeptics doubt us, that we stand up and prove there’s a reason we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Do you see this flag behind me? It’s time for us to take it back.
(This post is the transcript of a speech given by The Journeying Progressive)