I know we spend our time here with the absurd and ironic. We are snarky and irreverent. But this time it’s about new years and resolutions, so we are going to take this one time to stop and be serious – just for a moment.
Like everyone else, for this new year – this election year – I want a New America. Or maybe I just want to fix the old one. But I have realized we can’t do that until we take care of one thing: we need to become America first. We live here and we give ourselves the moniker, but few of us are real Americans. Wait. Let me explain – I’m not talking about flag-flying patriotism. I’m talking about the basis for this nation.
We were founded by peoples fleeing from religious and government oppression. We came to a land where no one was native. (The ‘Native Americans’ bear a misnomer – they immigrated across the Bering Strait. Though they did it first, they are still immigrants.) Once here, we found ourselves in groups – protestants, ‘natives’, Europeans – and we fought like dogs to each protect our group.
The irony is that it wasn’t just our founding fathers who have felt this isolation and persecution. The ‘Great American Melting Pot’ does not melt things smoothly or quickly. In the 1800s, it was common to see signs that read “No Irish”. In the 1900s the signs read “No Blacks”. Today the signs read “No Mexicans” or “No Gays”. Have we learned nothing?
Who has come to America? Irish and Africans. Italians. Germans. Japanese. Just to name a very few. Who among us is not an immigrant or the descendent of an immigrant then? Regardless of the fact that we are all in some way or other immigrants to this land, we have other problems in our group identities. This is not to say that you shouldn’t maintain your own group culture, not at all. But remember we have the larger group of ‘country’ to maintain, too.
I, too, want a New America. But I am sick at the idea that we build our new world by closing doors to the groups that we don’t personally like. If you want to see what that looks like, just look around the world.
But lately it seems that Americans are making laws based on what group can get the most votes in an attempt to make their group culture the American culture. Dictating belief through law is not what we are, not what we are supposed to be.
And why are we trying to make our personal cultures into law when we don’t have to? We have the right to speak our own minds, free of persecution. We have the right to close the doors of our homes to those we do not agree with. And my church, synagogue, mosque or clearing in the woods does not have to bless your marriage. You do not have to bless mine.
But we are better because we are diverse. We are strong because we are free. And if we wish to stay free, then we must be strong enough to be diverse. This is my country. This is the country I want to see. It is your country, too. From many, we are one.
Think for a moment the last time you thought about the ‘damned Irish, taking over our country’. Exactly. Personally, I’ve never had that thought. Because it didn’t happen; they didn’t take over. Nor did any of the other groups to emerge and eventually meld. If we are strong and if we are diverse then neither will anyone else. The problem is that old sentiment has not faded. We have simply replaced it with another group identity. Be honest, would you say ‘mexicans’ ‘gays’ ‘liberals’ ‘rednecks’?
The fact of the matter is that I am here today as you are: confident in my belief that I am right and you are wrong. But I realized something else: as much as I believe I am right, so do you. So take a moment to look at the other people around you and say to them “I am right and you are wrong.” You have the freedom to do so. But do you also have the courage to say to them “You are welcome in America”?
I invite you to do this with me, but be warned: in the next few moments you will become uncomfortable. This is not an easy task. If it were easy, we would have already done it. If it were easy, we would not have the rifts we have today. But it needs to be done or we will all slowly lose the rich culture and the rights that we have. So here we go . . .
To the Irish and the Italians, to the Protestants and the Catholics, you are welcome here. To the Japanese, the Germans and the Jews, you are welcome here. To the African Americans, the Mexican Americans, those of mixed race and culture and beliefs, you are welcome here. To the Pagans and the Muslims and the Rednecks, you are welcome here. To the one-percenters, the transgender and gay people, liberals and conservatives, racists, homophobes . . . whoever you are, you may be afraid of anyone, you may hate others, you are allowed your beliefs. You are welcome here.
Did I lose you? Where do each of us drop off the list? The point is that when we stop welcoming diversity, we all lose. You do not have to agree with the people you welcome. You can speak loudly against them. We have laws that are designed to protect us from hurting each other. So we need to stop fighting like cornered animals. We aren’t. We will not be oppressed. The Amish have the right to not attend public schools; the Christian Scientists have the right to refuse medical treatment; and the Atheists have the right to not say ‘one nation, under God’. And you are welcome to think they are all crazy and wrong. We will still hate. We will still identify with our own groups – there is nothing wrong with that. We can be strong that way. But we must welcome diversity.
Think of the groups on that list that you hate. Maybe ‘hate’ is too strong, but whatever it is, if there is a group you do not wish to welcome it is likely because you morally oppose them. There are groups on that list that I think are morally and ethically wrong, wrong, wrong. But I welcome them. And out there someone who has not met you hates you because of what you are or who you are. People are hated because they are Muslim or because they are gay or because they are lawyers. I hate some of you because of what you believe, and some of you hate me. I welcome you to America. I will close the doors of my home or my church to you and suspect you will do the same to me. But I welcome you to my country.
This is not the land where I am free and you are free. This is the land where I am free BECAUSE you are free. So I sit here, and just like always I think I am right and you are wrong. But I welcome you.
So at this time of year, when Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Yule have just passed, I am making my resolution. I will support those who support others. I will be open to the diversity that is here. I will do my best not to have a ‘Damned ________s, taking over my country’ attitude. I will respect your right to practice your religion, believe what you want and be who you want and ask that you please respect mine.
There are too many crises on our plates right now – debt, war, energy, just to name a few – we cannot afford to fight each other. So I will not be attending your church, your mosque, your Amish barn service. But if you harm no one, then build it, worship, believe. And right next to you, I will build my own synagogue or clear my circle in the woods.
We all have to know that as soon as we start dictating what others can believe, we cut off our own freedoms. When we make laws that say one god or another is right, one group is welcome and others are not, then we put the tools of discrimination into powerful hands. And we are fools to believe we will never be on the other side of it. As soon as you live in a world where your ideas are law, you have lost the freedom to change your mind. For many of us, even laws based on what our parents believed would have left us on the wrong side of discrimination.
And that may be the heart of the matter: I still believe I am right and you are wrong, just as you believe you are right and I am wrong. It is easy to believe that discrimination is okay as long as it is based on what I KNOW to be right. But that’s what I realized this week. No matter who dictates it – even ME, even YOU – it is wrong for this country. So fly your flag and hate your neighbor, but remember you are free BECAUSE he is free.
So please join me this year in supporting the melting pot. I’m not saying that we should throw open the doors to illegal immigrants, nor that harming or bullying anyone based on anything is okay. I simply hope that soon, all Americans are welcome in America. E pluribus unum – from many, we are one.