“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” –Ronald Reagan
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s hard to fathom, this is where we find ourselves right now as a country. Ever since the 2016 Presidential election, like many people I’ve been troubled by the myriad of realities that we as Americans, and the rest of world, will have to contend with in the coming months and years. Yet, I keep come back to one, existential problem that I can’t resolve. Perhaps we don’t have the luxury to ponder existential problems right now. Never the less, I’m honestly struggling with this single question:
How are we going to be the good guys anymore?
I realize that the world is complicated and that American history is wrought with hypocrisy, ulterior motives, and acts still left to be atoned for. That withstanding, I always believed it was our collective goal as a country, and as a people, to always attempt to live up to our own mythology and our highest ideals. I’m beginning to believe that our mythology is important and valuable.
Mythology shapes our most idealist selves, both individually and collectively. Mythology reveals our highest and greatest good, while exposing our deepest and most fatal flaws. In myths, there are heroes and villains. There are good guys and bad guys.
The good guys don’t condone torturing people when they are captured. The good guys liberate those who may be tortured from their captors. The good guys respect women and, (dare I say), protect and defend them when necessary. The good guys don’t molest women and then brag about it in the locker room. And, the good guys are also women.
The good guys come in every color and every religion; and they don’t blame an entire people, race, or religion for the acts of a few. The good guys honor their fallen soldiers and don’t deride, insult, and debase their families. The good guys stand up to bullies, they don’t become them.
The good guys stand by their allies and honor their commitments to one another. Finally, sometimes even the good guys make mistakes. And, once they realize they’ve made a mistake, they admit to it and work harder, to not make the same mistake again.
I have lived through republican presidents and democratic presidents and I have disagreed with many of their policies. However, never did I doubt their commitment to the core values of freedom, and justice, and respect for all people. I may have disagreed with them but I knew they weren’t villains; no matter how flawed their policies, or they personally, may have been. They were still on the side of the good guys. This new President-elect just isn’t one of the good guys.
Our president, (no matter who he or she is), is not just a leader, he/she is also supposed to be a symbol.
A symbol that reflects our ideals and mythology; not some undignified, rude, insulting, petty, tweet-storming, coward. Not some man-child who pits himself as a victim, while cowering behind the shielded veil of a social media platform; where genuine engagement is not possible. And so, I am struggling with how we are ever going to be the good guys anymore.
Our mythology is at cross road.
I was raised to believe that “what makes America great” is that, while we have committed great sins, decade after decade we continue to strive to do better. We continue to examine where, we may have been wrong, or guilty of wrong doing, and work to get it right. Whether it’s civil rights, waging unjust wars, or protecting nature from our own destructive tendencies. This is the narrative I was taught. It is a narrative that comes from our mythology. I find it hard to believe that the narrative and mythology I hold faith in, is exclusive to democrats or to liberals.
The day after the presidential election I was sitting on my patio and I looked up and saw a hawk land on a tree, a little more than a hundred yards from me. It was being chased by perhaps ten to fifteen mocking birds. Mockingbirds don’t normally fly in flocks, but they will band together when necessary, to drive out a persistent threat.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a flock of smaller birds go after a hawk but, a flock of mockingbirds is a force to be reckoned with. They are fierce and fearless. They flew at the hawk, cawing, screeching and taunting. Even though the hawk was twice as big and ten times as strong. And, then the hawk lifted from the tree, trying to get away and the mockingbirds were right on it’s tail. They did not relent.
I’m a strong believer in signs from the natural world. When I saw those mockingbirds on the first day after the election, I knew what the message was; and just the thought of it, exhausted me. But, then I was reminded of something else. When I was child, I had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at school. Every morning, I put my hand to my heart and spoke aloud,
“I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of American, and to the Republic for which it stands, One Nation, under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All”.
I spoke those words. I took a pledge. I believe in my country. I believe in the mythology and ideals I was taught. I believe there are tens of millions of Americans who share this narrative and mythology with me. And, now we may be called to defend it.
I believe we are Republicans, and Democrats, and Independents, and liberals and conservative. All of us are going to have put down our differences and join together and go after the hawks if they stand to threaten our freedoms, our Constitution, or our journalists: or put our soldiers, our allies, or any peoples, in harms way, if it is not in direct defense of liberty, freedom, justice and equality. I honestly don’t care what your politics are, if you’re willing to join in to defend these ideals, even if we only agree on this one thing. Because this one thing, is the only thing that matters. If we value our freedom and want our children to feel safe; and continue to have the right to keep arguing about what it all means.
As a new year begins I am going to keep remembering my Pledge of Allegiance. I’m going to dust off my guitar and I am going to show up. And, I am going to answer to the call of the mockingbird. I am going stand with my fellow Americans and be fierce, and fearless, and relentless, armed with the hundreds of calls that mocking birds have at their disposal; banded and bonded by our singular Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America.
We do not have to cave or acquiesce to anyone or anything, that pries and feeds on our deepest and most fatal flaws. Nor do we have to cower from people, or policies, that run counter to our sense of human decency. We have the courage and the strength to overcome it. Because, no matter how naive or idealistic it may seem, I believe to my core, we are, for the most part, a good people; and however daunting and challenging the task may be, we are, and still can be the good guys.
On this day we honor Martin Luther King Jr., a great American leader, and a great American hero, who contributed and helped to shape these ideals and values; and it was he who said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
If you too, want to stand, and answer to the call of the mockingbird, but don’t know where to start. Here are a few resources below. I hope you find them useful and I hope to see you out there.
Find your congressional representatives and how to contact them: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Find your State Senators and how to contact them: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=MI
Find advocacy groups you believe in: http://www.politicaladvocacy.org
If you’re a progressive, Organizing for Action: https://www.barackobama.com