By Linda Drajem
Back when I was a kid, the Fourth of July was such a big occasion. I lived in the Riverside section of Buffalo. We would walk to the corner of our little street and set up lawn chairs on Tonawanda Street to watch the parade.
The band from Riverside High School would march, as well as some jerry-built floats celebrating the day. Right behind the rousing music there were members of the military recently back from Korea, who held the flag aloft. It was so inspiring. Most of us would get choked up as we stood with our hands over our hearts to salute our country.
In my grade school civics class at School 60 we learned about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I was so thankful to be an American and to have such guaranteed freedoms. I knew our country was a beacon of light to the rest of the world. And we were a great counterweight to that awful USSR, where citizens had no rights.
However, today I am saddened and chagrined at the direction our country has taken. The values of freedom and equality promised to all of our citizens as well as to immigrants fleeing oppression seem under attack.
The Statue of Liberty’s welcome to the suffering beyond our shores has been mitigated by the recent travel ban. This latest decision by the Supreme Court allows a mean-spirited ruling to bar those fleeing war and violence from entering our country just because they happen to be from a Muslim country.
As a member of the board of a fine organization, Buffalo Peace House, which serves as a haven for those seeking legal asylum, I have heard refugees’ stories of fleeing war and almost certain death in their home countries. I have seen the effects of torture on their bodies. A civilized nation is right to offer them safety.
Equal protection under the law seems under attack by the loosening of protections on LGBT persons. My son and his husband have adopted children, and they fear that the legal protections for them and their family won in the past few years may dissipate under the current administration. This vice president spent his time in Congress working hard against protections for LGBT persons.
There seem to be a whole set of disheartening decisions recently. Pulling out of the Paris climate change accord, working to increase stringent voting requirements meant to disallow voters of color, giving more tax breaks to the wealthy and the long march toward more sick people without medical coverage, including the elderly. I almost don’t recognize my country anymore.
Those noble ideals I learned back in School 60 so long ago seem out of fashion now. Kindness and choosing one’s words carefully so as not to hurt others also seems gone.
As a retired teacher of the beautiful English language, I am distressed that the level of discourse has been debased to name-calling and trashing those who disagree. People of good will cannot seem to come together in a polite fashion to work toward solutions of our country’s problems.
I think of those long-ago Fourth of July parades with nostalgia. Yes, I am older now. But I still want to believe in those ideals. I want to be proud of the United States as a beacon of human rights to the rest of the world and, most especially, to our own citizens. I want to believe in civility and kindness as values to be espoused by all Americans.