Musings: There's Untold Power in People United

Despite the unsettling social and economic tumult of our time, we are living in an incredibly exciting and defining era of American history! On our cover, Lady Liberty stares unwaveringly ahead, a proud American symbol of freedom, liberty and international friendship welcoming the communities of the world to our shores for over 100 years. The rich diversity of cultures and creative genius drawn by her torch into this communal melting pot created the most powerful and prosperous nation on Earth.

Ironically, the very words that fueled America’s greatness so boldly inscribed on the statue’s pedestal now give voice to the country’s most seething division:

    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” — Emma Lazarus, 1883

If it weren’t so tragic it would almost be funny. How do Tea Partiers wrap their minds (and flags) around this much beloved, patriotic symbol of America emblazoned with such “fiscally irresponsible” words? Should we amend the Statue of Liberty, too, or just take it down altogether and scrap it? Maybe a simple Pinocchio nose could do the trick.

While the prospect of economic opportunity lured many immigrants to America’s shores, the promise of individual liberties and rights shone even brighter, a haven for ethnic and religious diversity, a paradise found of vibrant community. In the wake of the recent controversy over building a new Muslim cultural center that includes a mosque in lower Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted, “The right to practice your religion was the original reason America was founded. Generations of Americans have shed their blood to defend our First Amendment right to religious freedom.” It’s the soul of the American Dream. Banning Muslim citizens from anywhere in the country is not being patriotic; it’s being scared of others who are different and willing to oppress them.

People point to countries that forbid Christian churches from being built in their lands and say we should do the same with mosques. We believe we are so different from those countries, but are we? According to Amnesty International, over 93% of the legal executions around the world in 2009 were carried out by five countries: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and the United States. Why are we even on such a chilling list?

Living the American Dream means living with liberty and justice for all. In our short but revolutionary history, the reality of this dream has collided many times with the innate challenges we face as a nation of immigrants, indivisible: slavery, ignorance, hatred and violence towards each other. Our roots of racism run deep — America was founded on the extermination of one nation while enslaving another — so we still have a long way to go in leveling that playing field, much less fulfilling our destiny. The rising and heated confrontations over race since the election of President Obama give us the cutting edge we need to expose racism and bring it out into the open where it can be whittled away and sculpted into character we can be proud to call American. Will we stand in support of the democracy, liberty and freedom on which we were founded or succumb to the hate, ignorance and racism that spawned our vilest chapters in history?

Since our earliest years, America’s strength has been fortified by its tight-knit communities of people pulling together. Strong communities make strong democracies into even stronger countries. There is untold power in people united. Today, virtual communication provides the potential to unite the entire population of the planet. While it may not be the future of community we’d hoped for, the tidal wave of technology is slowly engulfing us all. As people find it more and more difficult to be in the same space at the same time with their family and friends, they text, email and meet up online in networking sites and games. Every investment we make in our in–person communities today — neighborhood, family, church, town, affinity or hobby groups — is more valuable than ever in the face of encroaching technology. Join in now before it’s gone forever!

Here’s a few ideas from on how to build community today right from your own front door.

  • Turn off your TV
  • Leave your house
  • Know your neighbors
  • Look up when you are walking
  • Greet people
  • Sit on your stoop
  • Plant flowers
  • Use your library
  • Play together
  • Buy from local merchants
  • Share what you have
  • Help a lost dog
  • Take children to the park
  • Garden together
  • Support neighborhood schools
  • Fix it even if you didn’t break it
  • Have pot lucks
  • Pick up litter
  • Honor elders
  • Read stories aloud
  • Dance in the streets
  • Talk to the mail carrier
  • Listen to the birds
  • Put up a swing
  • Help carry something heavy
  • Barter for your goods
  • Start a tradition
  • Organize a block party
  • Bake extra and share
  • Hire young people for odd jobs
  • Share your skills
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Open your shades
  • Sing together
  • Take back the night
  • Turn up the music
  • Turn down the music
  • Listen before you react to anger
  • Mediate a conflict
  • Learn from new and uncomfortable angles

Carol Bedrosian is publisher and editor of Spirit of Change.