“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.”
In 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Independence. The colonies of America were sick of paying unfair taxes to a king 3,000 miles away who did not represent them. They were tired of being repressed and oppressed for their religious beliefs and practices. They wanted freedom. They wanted equal rights. To an end.
The hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence has been a stain on the fabric of America for the past 232 years. Admittedly that stain has grown less obvious over the past half-century through the work of the Civil Rights Movement but not until November 4th, 2008, did it seem as though that stain was finally removed.
America’s Founding Fathers began the United States Constitution with a fervour that is still admirable, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” With those words they set into motion a series of events to move their country towards a deeper understanding and practice of freedom then they could, at that time, imagine.
Because, of course, they wanted freedom then, and liberty for America, but only so long as it was white, male America.
Almost 100 years later people finally caught on. In 1863 a truly divided America was either fighting for or against a freedom which was only assumed possible because of the ideals of America – that all men really might just be created equal regardless of the color of their skin.
In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln famously proposed the following:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865, put an end to legal slavery in the United States of America. It would be almost another 100 years before equal rights were further achieved.
And still it is only all “men” who are created equal.
In 1893 the first states granted voting rights to women. In 1919 the Federal Woman’s Suffrage Amendment, originally written by Susan B Anthony in 1878, is passed in the House of Representatives. On August 26th 1920 women are granted the right to vote via the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The road to equal rights is long and seemingly insurmountable.
In 1954, 89 years on from the abolishment of slavery, the Supreme Court rules that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. December 1st 1955 is the epic moment when Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus which ignites a fire underneath the oppressed African American community and their sympathisers.
Riots and protests follow, both black and white hatred grows stronger. Those voices advocating peace and unity are drowned out by the overwhelming melee. On August 28th 1963 an unyielding Martin Luther King Jr delivers his infamous speech proclaiming “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed by Johnson on July 2nd prohibiting discrimination in voting, education and the use of public facilities. The federal government now had a way to enforce desegregation.
In 1968 Martin Luther King Jr is shot dead for having the audacity to believe that when the Founding Fathers said equal rights, they meant it.
The Civil Rights Movement carried on strongly across the terms of 3 presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson. To this day people are still being tried and accused of crimes committed against African Americans during these tumultuous years.
The road to equal rights is long and seemingly insurmountable.
And now it is 2008 and look where we are. Look how far we’ve come. A woman made it through to the primaries of a Presidential Election and an African American is going to be the next President of the United States. It took only 232 years.
I know that race is not and never was a big issue for Obama during his campaign (which is astounding in and of itself). I know that equal rights for all peoples in the world are still a very long way off. I know the economy is failing in countries all over the world and I know that no one is infallible.
We have seen many a politician stumble and fall under the unending pressures of Presidency, and I fully understand that I may yet be proven wrong, but I stand behind President-elect Barack Obama. I stand up for what he believes in. I stand up for change which is desperately needed and woefully overdue. Let us persevere with the hope that now, 232 years later, the stain of hypocrisy and prejudice; the walls which have divided the country will fall and allow us to truly become The United States of America.
I am 27 years old. I am a white girl from suburban Ohio who grew up far from the roughness of stricken cities, far from racism and bigotry and far from poverty, but these past 8 years have been a struggle to me. I have struggled for my National Identity amidst worldwide growing scepticism about American politics and policies. Now, once again and finally, after many long years I can look people in the eye and say that yes, I am an American. I am an American. And after January I can finally begin to feel that the American President represents me, my beliefs and what I stand for.
Yes, we can. We can change. As one and as many. We can change America. We can change the world.
Yes we can.
We can change.
And now, again and finally, we can hope.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
– Barack Obama, the President-elect.
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