In November of 1863, then President Abraham Lincoln, a man who has come to be known in exactly one circle as the second least racist President in the history of the United States, gave a very short (271 word) speech over the blood soaked fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The average age of the soldier killed in that battle was 15 which means, as other remedial math students like myself may need to be reminded, that there were the as many people who were younger than 15 as there were older. It was a terrible loss of life, unparalleled in U.S. history and Lincoln reminded us of their sacrifice and warned that we could easily lose what generations before us had sacrificed so that our democracy, flawed and imperfect as it was and is, could survive. This isn’t the speech in which he refers to the United States as “the last best hope” but those sentiments are embedded in it.
I woke up this morning thinking of the Gettysburg Address and the last best hope the United States has provided for people here and around the world and wondered if I wasn’t about to live through the last best day of the American Experience. I hope not. I hope that all the people who suffered and died to protect my right to vote in a free election will not have their efforts wasted. I hope that my own immigrant grandparents who faced, as children, a long perilous boat ride, extreme poverty and a shaky landing in a country that did them no favors, will not have done so in vain. I hope that the dreams of the enslaved and only marginally freed peoples of this country will not be forced backwards by despotism and hatred, that people who have only very recently been able to love and serve openly will not be driven back into the small, dark closet of despair in which they lived for centuries, in which people who are born with or who acquire a physical or mental disability are not again deprived of education and opportunity.
I want America to be the way I see it when I am walking through Manhattan, my favorite American city, on a sunny afternoon; that America is a wonderful, multi-colored, multi-language party to which everyone has been invited, and where everyone came.
We have so much to lose, too much, too much that is precious, essential, humane. I do not want to live without it. I don’t want anyone to have to live without it.