Our Country, to Have and to Hold

Before his death three years ago, my grandfather told me a number of stories about his days in the Asia/Pacific Theater during World War II - escaping death, crossing the Equator, the meals they served on the ships. My other grandfather also had war stories of his own, although sadly, he died two years before I was born, so I never had the chance to hear them.

Both of my grandfathers shared something in common, however: Both are among a long list of brave men and women who have served in defense of this nation and the ideals we hold dear - the ones Thomas Jefferson wrote in that Declaration which was signed 231 years ago today: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson was one of many who, tired of the status quo, decided to take action against tyranny, against the oppression of those at the bottom by those at the top. And so we must follow in Jefferson's lead.

A lot has changed since the Founders rose up and rejected the status quo. Our nation has 37 more states and 100 times as many people. Forty-three men have taken an oath to uphold our nation's Constitution, with some fulfilling their oath better than others. Whereas only free men over 21 who owned property could vote in the early days of our Republic, nowadays virtually everyone over 18 may vote.

Yet even as our freedoms come under attack from within, we can be proud of the fact that so many people - among them my friend Cliff, who recently returned from Iraq - are willing to put their lives on the line for those ideals which Jefferson gave us, and that so many others - Keith Olbermann, Helen Thomas, Al Gore, and John Conyers, among countless others - work day in and day out to hold our leaders accountable for preserving and expanding liberty.

But they cannot do it alone.

In this time when our basic freedoms are being attacked, each of us must take responsibility for doing our part to ensure that the cause of liberty is not destroyed in our great Republic. Because as much as Bush and his cabal try to ruin the Republic, the fact remains, this is still our country.

OUR country.

This country belongs to ALL 300,000,000+ of us. This country belongs to a poor person without health insurance and without a job as much as it does to the wealthy CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It belongs as much to a paralyzed person as it does to a star athlete. It belongs as much to a janitor as it does to his/her company's senior vice president. It belongs just as much to a military recruit on his first day in basic training as it does to a four-star general. It belongs as much to a child entering kindergarten this fall as it does to my school district’s recently retired superintendent and her successor.

And of course, this country belongs to the millions of people who have served their country in uniform: from Washington and the other Founders, to Grant, to TR at San Juan Hill, to my grandfathers, to my father, to Cliff.

This country belongs to us as much as it did to the 56 men who pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honor” to the cause of freedom 231 years ago. Or to the 39 who, eleven summers later, authored the Constitution.

Or the millions of working men and women in this country, without whom America would not be America.

Or the countless men and women who have died protecting us: Armed Forces personnel, firefighters, police officers.

Understanding that this country belongs to each and every one of us is what patriotism is all about. Patriotism doesn’t involve saying you support our troops despite supporting policies that harm them, i.e. an ill-planned war that has led to the loss of nearly 3,600 Americans. Nor does it involve calling people traitors just because they they happen to disagree with you. Nor does it involve ruthlessly attacking patriots such as Max Cleland and John Kerry.

Patriotism involves speaking up. Sharing your opinion. Demanding the truth. Expecting the best for our Republic. Insisting that good spring from bad, that the values we hold dear as a nation are not suppressed by a group of egotists seeking to serve themselves at the expense of others.

Countless Americans have sacrificed so much for this country, from the bitter winter at Valley Forge, through the bloody Civil War, through two World Wars, through numerous other conflicts, right into this one. We can't all serve in the military, but if our nation is to remain free, we must all do the example Jefferson laid out for us and fight for the America we desire.

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