FIVE GROUPS RE-FOUNDING AMERICA
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
This is a Fourth of July unlike any other. To truly honor its deepest meaning, we need to celebrate not just the founders all those years ago, but the people who are re-founding America today.
We are in the middle of a pandemic, a few weeks past the biggest Juneteenth celebration in history, undergoing waves of protests and experiencing a “great awakening” that is creating rapid positive changes and radically reshifting racial attitudes in America. All of this is bound to produce mixed emotions and questions about what America is, should be, can be – and where each of us fit in.
Some of us have been asking these questions all our lives. I am a first-generation American. The American dream drew my parents to these shores, and they found safety, security, and prosperity for our family here. Dream Corps founder Van Jones is a ninth-generation American – but, as a Black American, the first in his family born with all his rights.
Our histories help us remember that America has always been two things. From the beginning, there was a beautiful founding dream of liberty and justice for all. But there was also the ugly founding reality.
The Declaration of Independence changed the world with its bold call for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. But that very same document meant nothing for the millions of people held as slaves. Its text includes an ugly shot at “merciless Indian savages.” In the years to come, women and anyone who was not a white, propertied male would be left out of government “by and for the people.”
It took a bloody war to end chattel slavery, only for Jim Crow to replace it. It took more spilled blood to end Jim Crow, only for an era of mass incarceration and militarized policing in Black and Brown communities to replace it. Only through marches and protests, sermons and sit-ins did women gain the right to vote and LGBTQ Americans a measure of equality.
That is what America is really all about.
Every generation has the responsibility to move America a little bit further from our ugly founding reality, and closer to our beautiful founding dream. Every generation is called to re-found America.
Here are just a few of the new founders we should be celebrating this Fourth of July:
The Black Lives Matter movement and criminal justice reformers:
When Alicia Garza first used the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, no one could have predicted this. To list all the accomplishments requires its own piece. America will forever be different because of a movement led by Black women that took to the streets and declared, “I can’t breathe.” People directly impacted by our broken criminal justice system spoke out and built a left-right coalition. Their voices led to federal bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation that has brought thousands of people home from behind bars. Today, we are in the midst of a national, bipartisan conversation about not just bodycams and chokeholds, but the scope and purpose of policing and incarceration.
The Supreme Court just blocked the Trump administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, handing a victory to another set of new founders: the DREAMers. Named after the DREAM Act that would have granted them citizenship, these young people – brought here as children and knowing no other home – reshaped the conversation around immigration. Just as importantly, they have reclaimed the very idea of the American Dream from a narrow vision of white picket fences and a car in every driveway. The real American dream, given voice by the Dreamers, is of a multiracial, multiethnic, rainbow republic where everyone can strive for their dreams.
You cannot talk about the Supreme Court without mentioning a shocking victory for LGBTQ Americans, especially in the midst of Pride month. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The progress since 2004 – much less since the Stonewall uprising sparked the modern LGBTQ movement – is enough to give you hope for all manner of change.
“Essential workers” is up there with “flatten the curve” among catchphrases of this pandemic moment. The phrase refers to those workers – from healthcare workers to delivery drivers – who must keep working instead of quarantining. But as the spotlight landed on them, American realized that these “essential” workers are often treated like they are expendable. Suddenly, our new heroes are the disproportionately Black and Brown workers who are the backbone of our economy. These heroes will force us all to rethink what the economy of tomorrow looks like.
The largest and most diverse generations in American history are already leaving their mark on history. They fueled this wave of protests, and they did not stop there. Young people – both progressives and, increasingly, young conservatives – are leading the charge to confront the climate crisis before it is too late. They are imagining, innovating, and inventing the high-tech future we will all live in.
We are now facing a pandemic, an economic crisis, and social unrest all at once. No matter how many people yearn to go “back to normal,” the next normal will look very different. We have a chance to make it less like America’s founding reality and more like our founding dream. But to do it, we need to be willing to find common ground, work with people we disagree with, never assume the country’s best days are behind us, and honor the people who struggle to re-found America in every generation.
So this Fourth of July, take a moment at your socially distanced barbecue to celebrate the people who are re-founding America today. They are the reason we could emerge from this moment better than before.