As this trying year winds to a close, America is a troubled land. Because of that, we felt it was appropriate to review and renew our holiday wishes from last year.
Our holiday wishes in 2020 focused on remembering and wishing. They follow.
As we enter this holiday season, it is essential to remember that America, this immigrant nation, has been and is a promised land for so many.
President Barack Obama remembers. That is why he titled his memoir A Promised Land.
A promised land does not mean a perfect land. It means there is a place that promises anyone, regardless of their country of origin, sex, race, religion, or status, the opportunity to believe, conceive, and achieve.
America made that promise at its founding when it stated in the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776:
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.
America did not deliver on that promise for all at its beginning. And for too many, it still does not do so today. But through the more than two centuries of its existence, American leaders and concerned citizens have striven to make this nation “a more perfect union” and to ensure that promises made are promises kept.
This is critical to remember. Unfortunately, over the past decade, and most recently under the Trump presidency, it has not been remembered, or perhaps was never known or understood.
Most recently, America has been moved toward isolationism, both internally and on the world stage. The evolving American melting pot of diversity and acceptance was being replaced with a pot strainer for selection and rejection.
In this year’s presidential election, the majority of Americans voted to make America a promised land again. This should be celebrated during this holiday season. And in our holiday wishes for this year, we do so by remembering America’s past and wishing for its future.
We remember: Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in his Gettysburg Address proclaiming that — “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”
We wish: In the years and decades to come, that freedom shall finally be fully and fairly extended to Blacks.
We remember: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941 enunciating the four freedoms: Freedom of speech. Freedom to worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.
We wish: Freedom of speech to dignify discourse, not to demean it and each other. Freedom to worship, not through one politically dominant Christian religion, but ecumenically and through all religions. Freedom from want for those tens of millions of Americans who still live in poverty in the world’s richest nation. Freedom from fear of each other, and faith in our ability to overcome the current threats to democracy.
We remember: John F. Kennedy in 1961 requesting, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
We wish: That citizens ask what they can do to strengthen the four freedoms, extend the new birth of freedom to all, and contribute to the continuation of this great experiment.
We remember: George W. Bush in 2001 explaining, “America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every child must uphold them…Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation’s promise through civility, courage, compassion, and character.”
We wish: For a national system of civic education and citizen learning and engagement that prepares and equips to live out our nation’s promise.
We remember: Joe Biden at Gettysburg in 2020 stating, “We must seek not to have our fists clinched but our arms open. We have to seek not to tear each other apart. We have to seek to come together.”
We wish: That we Americans learn to embrace each other and learn how to work together in unity.
We remember: Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 saying to Blacks in Memphis — “I’ve been to the mountaintop…I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you know to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
We wish: That MLK’s people and we the American people get to the promised land and arrive there together hand in hand and arm in arm.
Those were our wishes a year ago. Upon review, as we expected, there has been little progress on most of them. Sadly, as we did not expect, due to events and setbacks during the year, we have regressed on many.
Some would say those wishes were just pipe dreams. In all candor, their current status does bring to mind the famous saying, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
It also brings to mind, however, the thought that, if there were no wishes, there would be no starting points for reaching a desired destination, whether it be by foot, by horse, by car, by plane, or by spacecraft.
Wishes provide the platforms for generating the ideas, creating the plans, and doing the hard work to bring them to reality. The truth in 2021 is that we are further away from realizing those wishes than we were in 2020.
That does not mean that those wishes should be abandoned. Instead, the commitment to them must be renewed.
We do so. And, in so doing, we add the following remembrances and wishes to our list.
We remember: Bob Dole, a U.S. Senator (R-Ks), Republican nominee for President, and an army veteran disabled in WW-II, who died on December 4.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post after his death, Dole wrote. “There has been a lot of talk about what it will take to heal our country. We have heard many of our leaders profess ‘bipartisanship.’ But we must remember that bipartisanship is the minimum we should expect from ourselves…Our nation’s recent political challenges remind us that our standing as the leader of the free world is not simply destiny. It is a deliberate choice that every generation must make and work toward. We cannot do it divided…Our nation has certainly faced periods of division. But, at the end of the day, we have always found ways to come together. We can find that unity again.”
We wish: That we find the “bipartisan” ways to come together to rediscover the unity required to continue the pursuit of our American destiny as the leader of the free world.
We remember: Ronald Reagan in 1981 proclaiming: “I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command let us begin an era of national renewal. …. We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.”
We wish: That America does not let itself become a nation of fatalists who look backward and block progress, but of heroes such as Bob Dole who look forward to creating a future that is fairer and better for all.
America in 2021 is a troubled land but it remains a promised land — a land of promises yet to be fulfilled by we, the people.
Happy holidays and best wishes to all for a new year with less troubles in this promised land.
Originally published by the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship. For more information on what 21st century citizenship entails, and to see exemplars from around the world, please visit our website.