Of Thee I Sing

07/03/2006 11:25 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My country, 'tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing.

I love my country, with everything within me. Born in blood and turmoil, out of religious refugees and landed gentry. The entire mess that somehow turned into the most idealistic of nations: Quaker merchants who used pacifism as an excuse to condemn the revolution when really, they were more worried about the financial consequences of worthless Continental scrip. The rabble that tarred and feathered the royal judges and instead, held their own courts. Members of the aristocracy who went head to head with a king, and won.

My country, 'tis of thee.

The greatest thrill of my life: getting to stand on the very same wooden platform in Independence Hall where the Founders signed the Declaration and later, the Constitution. Flawed as it was, the Declaration raised the rule of law above the whim of king. "No more," they said. "Here is where we make our stand."

And there I stood, where they signed their names and became traitors to the king. It was a turning point in the world, something that happened such a relatively short time ago. It was to change the world.

A nation founded on ideals. What a revolutionary idea.

Sweet land of liberty.

They came from nations where so many faced prison or death for their very beliefs, and so the Founders wrote it into our nation's laws. Belief would play no part in the law's favor; all men were acknowledged equal. They had yet to grant the ballot to women or blacks, but they were pragmatic men who did not let perfection become the enemy of the good.

In this new land, if you followed the laws, you were reasonably sure of its protection.

There were notable exceptions, even from the beginning. Our treatment of the Indians was a stain on the nation's integrity. And the wealthy and powerful did what they could to abuse the law on behalf of their greed. Still, the United States of America was a shining beacon to the rest of the world.

It's different now. The men and yes, women who are leading our nation have perverted those ideals. Now it's about blind ideology, and imperialism. War is treated like a chess game, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead.

We thought we were different. No coups here! We'd know if something like that ever happened. There would be tanks in the street, and thugs with machine guns. We'd fight back bravely, like in the movies. After all, this is America.

We never thought it would be as simple as stealing elections. That only happens in the Third World, not here. Now we know better.

Now we are the ones with the machine guns. We are the ones who are feared.

How did it happen? We let it. Oh, we signed the petitions, we marched when convenient. We gave money to candidates, we called our congressmen. But when it comes right down to it, like those Quaker merchants of long ago, we're still unwilling to give up our comfortable lives for freedom. We can't really demonstrate our outrage if we're not willing to sacrifice a goddamned thing.

You have to give up something substantial to fix this. You have to risk something: Your job, your neighbors' scorn, someone else's feelings. There's too much on the line for any of us to sit on our fat behinds.

Because if we don't, all we have left are our memories of a comfortable time. Parades, illusions, fireworks. A kinder, safer, freedom, with nothing on the line and nothing left to lose.

Of thee I sing.