I didn’t know what a privilege it is to live in the United States until I left to work in other countries. The first one was Iran, governed at that time by the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and his loyalists in the Iranian parliament. The second was Romania, governed then by Nicolae Ceasescu and the Romanian Communist Party.
My observations of how people lived in fear at least part of the time in those two countries under those leaders made it clear that I had more than an opportunity to get involved with my government, starting at the local level–it was my duty–because I could when so many others cannot. Living overseas opened my eyes. Our system of government makes it possible for any citizen to get involved and voice opinions, with passion, in order to change society for the better.
Well, we have plenty of voicing opinion–with passion–these days. But that fact still fills me with optimism. So long as no one voice, or set of voices, is totally gagged, even one with which I do not agree, we are living up to the challenges outlined by those who signed the Declaration of Independence and framed our Constitution.
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, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.1
“That to ensure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
That’s what was missing in Iran and Romania. That’s what I wanted to be part of–discussion leading to consent of the governed. That’s why I took part in Minnesota’s caucus system, where neighbors meet and declare which candidates they support or admit that they don’t yet know which candidate is preferred. To begin dialog, to meet together, and in the end to vote.
That feeling on a visceral level of what it means to be an American also led me to pursue joining the US Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. It’s why I encourage family and friends to travel to other countries, to get to know what it is like to live under different circumstances, in order to come home to understand what a blessing it is to live here.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.2
“. . . to form a more perfect Union, . . . .”
The fact that the framers of the Constitution included a comparative–more perfect–instead of an absolute–perfect–shows both their humanity and their foresight.
These are among the thoughts I will keep in mind on Independence Day as our son and his family join us on Wednesday for grilled hotdogs, hamburgers, salads, and probably way too much to eat and drink. Because we can.
Happy Fourth of July, Independence Day.
Image credit: Shireah Ragnar