“We the People.”
Those three oversized carefully calligraphed words on the United States Constitution make my heart soar.
Each stroke of the quill, each serif in the letters, indelibly, forcefully anchors what our nation, The United States of America. is about.
It is not “me” or “I” or “we the government,” “we the business sector,” or “we the elite.” It is “we the people.”
Today I’m going to talk about what “We the People” meant to our founders, where we are today and the direction we should go in the future.
When our founding fathers (and mothers) created this audacious idea of a democratic republic, they dared to believe that regular people, like you and me, deserved the right to say how our government, our country would run. Yes, I acknowledge that given their time they really meant white property-owning men.
But thankfully, either by design or providence or both, they created a process that through Constitutional amendments, court decisions and legislation, we could evolve toward an inclusive country where “all means all.”
And, as Senator John McCain has observed, along with others, “Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today IF we have the wisdom to trust in them again.”
And trust we must.
I love the imagery of “founders” laying the foundation of this amazing experiment in self governance. And “framers” of the Constitution who argued vehemently and compromised to construct what became the strategic plan of our nation.
I believe they knew their work was unfinished, incomplete, which is why they built in mechanisms for “change orders” so subsequent generations would continue to add onto, build out and improve upon their vision. I do not believe they considered the Constitution to be set in stone, but a living document that responds to and reflects the inevitable march of time and progress.
And yet, today, it seems as though some of us who were supposed to be custodians of our democracy have either failed to show up, are just biding our time, or have flat walked off
We can complain that our civics education in the public schools is inadequate and has not properly prepared generations for this important responsibility known as citizenship. We can deflect and argue that our elected officials are incompetent and perhaps corrupt.
Ultimately, though, we must accept that as citizens, by being uninformed and disengaged, WE bear responsibility for our current situation. Our voter turnout is abysmal. Texas ranks 44th out of the 50 states and District of Columbia in voter registration and a dismal 47th out of 51 in voter turnout in the 2016 General Election when President Trump was elected. In recent school board and municipal elections, we had a pathetic 6 percent turnout … and this for elected officials who have the greatest impact upon our daily lives.
We let other things, some good, some frivolous and some downright destructive, distract us from our responsibilities to properly maintain what our founders put into place.
So, how do we get people back on the job?
We step back and take stock of what we’ve done and how we’re doing. We return to our roots and examine our sacred civic texts: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Articles of Confederation. For too many of us, those documents and terms held little relevance for us in our middle and high school history and government classes.
We must invite younger generations to join us in re-examining those bold, and often treasonous, declarations for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Phrases we’ve heard all our lives, but don’t fully understand or appreciate the consequence or sacrifice behind them over 200 years ago and every year since.
We know today that our founders’ ideas of “every man created equal” did not include women, enslaved people or those who did not hail from western Europe.
And yet, I believe, that given our current global economy, the interconnectedness that technology affords us, that if those signers of the Declaration of Independence were alive today that they would NOT shrink from the notion that “every man” should be rewritten to include every person regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation.
Today we have access to so much more information, but we neglect to cultivate knowledge and experience outside our comfort zones that helps form the wisdom we need to move us forward.
Being a citizen is not a passive activity. It doesn’t mean showing up once every four years to vote in a Presidential election or signing an online petition that appears in your inbox. It does not mean straight party voting.
It requires us to work diligently.
We must invest as much time in researching our candidates as we do restaurants, bars and hotels through Yelp.
We must make informed decisions about how we want to live as individuals, as families, as communities, as citizens of our nation and citizens of the world.
Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch once said, “Voting is how we participate in a civic society – be it for president, be it for a municipal election. It’s the way we teach our children – in school elections – how to be citizens, and the importance of their voice.”
Opting out is irresponsible and a disservice to all who fought — and still fight –for maintaining and expanding our freedoms.
Our nation came into being because of rebels, renegades, rogues, people who challenged the status quo and spoke truth to power. They dreamt boldly of a government by the people, for the people and of the people.
These times require that we must reinforce what our founders created. We must pick up the hammers, pour the concrete, invest in infrastructure and glaze the glass that so we can once again shine a light on the aspirations of men and women who over two centuries ago dared to dream of a nation unlike any other.
Now 242 years later, here we are. Most of us – and I truly believe that even in this era of anger, anxiety, discord and distrust – that we are eternal optimists humbled with a dose of pragmatism. We still believe the impossible: that we have a country that has, is and will continue to transform human history.
It is unlikely that we will realize a “finished” product in our lifetime or even our grandchildren’s lifetimes. And yet, it is a plan, a dream, an ideal that we cannot afford to let die from neglect.
Most importantly, this is not a project that can be tackled or finished by an individual, a single political party or a movement. It requires all of us citizens to come together and work as Americans, without add-on labels and divisions and without hyphens.
Just as in our own families, we know that there will be disagreements, differences of opinions, different ways of doing things. And, as in our families, we know we are stronger and better together, than when we allow ourselves to broken apart.
As President Ronald Reagan said, “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.”
So those days when it seems like all forces are working against us, when the detractors are louder than the supporters, we must protect freedom from extinction by embracing three simple words: WE THE PEOPLE. WE control our future.
I invite you today, to commit to work together as Americans, with no hyphens, no additional descriptors, to commit to move from “me” to “we.” Because, we are We the People.