July 4th was over seven weeks ago and, for several reasons, I can't bring myself to take down the American flag hanging on the front of my house. Every time I leave and return home, it serves as a reminder to me of how important it is to be involved in this great nation's system of government.
I'm a proud and patriotic citizen of the United States of America. My DNA is red, white and blue. I'm an Army brat. I'm 54 years old and I have four children. And as a proud and patriotic American, I'm equal parts concerned and confused.
The America I grew up in had a can-do, take care of your neighbors attitude, and that was the attitude my parents instilled in me. And over the last 150 years, that attitude has led to extraordinary American achievements: women's suffrage, recovering from World War II, developing social security, the Civil Rights movement, landing on the moon, electing an African American President and landing a rover on Mars.
Of course, this isn't the America I grew up in. In many ways, our great country has changed for the better since I was a child, and America and the world face challenges we've never faced before. But I believe that the response we've been capable of for decades is still with us, in us. We just don't know how to respond when it appears the people who control our systems of government, business, education and health care, have selfish agendas that are in direct conflict with "taking care of our neighbors." The epitome of this is watching our elected officials leave for summer break having accomplished so very little.
When I listen to the radio, read the newspaper or speak with friends and family, it becomes clear that these feelings of concern and confusion are shared by many. They are caused by our failure to address some of our most important challenges this past legislative session. And boy, what a failure that was. Amidst the many pieces of legislation that were not addressed, like the Farm Bill or Tax Relief for the middle class, sits a critical act that represents how short-sighted and harmful inaction by our Congress can be. It is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
I don't know whether to scream or cry when I think about how much damage is being done by not reauthorizing the VAWA. Paige Flink, Executive Director at Dallas-based shelter The Family Place notes that, "if VAWA is not reauthorized we will lose many effective provisions that have saved lives of thousands of people living in violent relationships. Since 1994 this critical law has provided funding for shelters and helped reduce partner violence against women across our country." Sadly, Flink warns, "today, this effective law is a political football, languishing on the desks of Congress while agencies such as ours struggle to shelter every person who needs it."
Paige can't stop thinking about one of her clients, whose children jumped out a bathroom window to escape the violence of their father as he killed their uncle and tried to kill their mother. We should all be very concerned that our country doesn't currently have legislated protection for this woman and others like her. Our foreign policy seems to promote and facilitate support for women in other countries and yet we refuse to pass the legislation that would make the same support possible in our own country!
I'm not alone when I have feelings of frustration about my inability to affect change. What is an educated, middle-aged, patriotic American who really cares, but doesn't have millions to contribute to the political system, supposed to do? In America, often the thing that speaks louder than the special interest dollars is the volume of voices heard by our elected officials. It was the will of the people, not the influence of a few wallets that led to all those remarkable American achievements listed.
So I'm going to join the voices that are already gathering. Voices demanding that our elected officials take action, risk compromise and make us proud that they represent us.
You can do the same. Go online to find out how to call or write your congressional representatives, then take fifteen minutes to contact each of them with two key messages. Firstly, they must reach across the aisle to work for the good of the American people. Secondly, they must do whatever it takes to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. This is the work they've been elected to do, and if they hear this message from enough people, maybe Congress will return from this undeserved recess and get the hard work done.
When Americans put their minds to it, and when our elected officials serve us the way they're supposed to, we can achieve remarkable things. So, I think I'll leave my flag flying a little longer. It will continue to remind me of what can be achieved when Americans work together.
Nancy Webb is a longtime resident of the Dallas Metroplex and a concerned patriot. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.