Tomorrow we will celebrate together as a nation. Families will gather in neighborhood parks and backyards for their fill of hot dogs and watermelon. Citizens of small towns and huge municipalities alike will line their streets to wave as veterans and Shriners and local marching bands parade by. Americans by the millions will relax under the night sky, entertained by booming, brilliant, rocketing sparks that diminish even the brightest stars.
This year, my husband’s enthusiasm has stirred family members to create and enter a float in our own town parade. I am anxious to see his satisfied grin as they move down main street behind the girl scouts on their bicycles decorated with red, white, and blue streamers, and in front of the local pageant winner waving from the open seat of a luxury convertible, her crown sparkling in the morning sunshine. I’ll be there on the sidewalk, shoulder to shoulder with fellow patriots as we cheer and clap and smile at our neighbors marching past us.
Those standing beside me along the parade route are completely unaware of my true identity. They do not know that the few inches separating my shoulder from theirs represent a chasm. I blend in perfectly, with no unusual outward actions distinguishing me as different from them. I am a middle aged, middle class woman, sipping on iced Starbucks, wearing capris and sandals and sunscreen, just like them.
If we were to strike up a conversation, they would learn that I married my college sweetheart 35 years ago and remain his faithful wife today. We would chat about my two grown daughters, who I cared for as a stay at home mother when they were young, making sacrifices on one salary, and never using ‘government handouts’, even if finances became challenging. I began my own career only after our children were in school full time, parenting them to be good citizens with my husband who is also their father, then sent them off to learn about being independent, American consumers in their own lives. We might even discuss how much we enjoyed our pets once our daughters left us with an empty nest. Our conversation would include my lifelong membership to a mainstream Christian denomination, where my husband and I remain active members in our local congregation. My parade route neighbors would assume and be correct that I am a decent citizen, never arrested for any crime, vote in every election, that I and my husband are gainfully employed and pay our federal and local taxes every year on time. They would observe that I stand and place my hand over my heart when Old Glory passes us, that I know the words to ‘God Bless America’, when I sing along as it blares from a flatbed trailer disguised as the Oklahoma frontier, circa 1900.
So the assumption on the sidewalk is that I am just like them. Those standing beside me at the 4th of July parade would judge me to be acceptable, meeting their conservative ideals that Oklahomans like to sum up in the convenient marketing quip of ‘Faith, Family and Freedom’.
But, you see, I am a blue leaning woman in a very red place. I am a liberal.
In this red state, where people fight with one another over who is the most conservative, I as a liberal, am the enemy. Because as a liberal, I cannot possibly be a person of faith, nor could I truly care about family, and of course, I am not a real patriotic American. As a liberal, I and my evil ways will destroy the country. Yes, all those evil ways we discussed on the sidewalk a few moments ago.
The few inch chasm between truth and ideals has grown beyond reason. So here are my liberal truths:
When I advocate for equal pay for women, it is because I want all working women, our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, to be compensated fairly for their contribution to the economy.
When I advocate for same-sex marriage, it is because I value marriage as a worthy institution for all people who love and choose to commit to one another.
When I voice my stand on the separation of church and state, it is precisely because I value the freedom to my religious beliefs and would not impose mine on others, any more than I would want theirs imposed upon me.
When I oppose American military aggression, it is because I value the service and lives of our soldiers and their families so that any sacrifice of theirs must be reserved for only the most just reasons.
When I support affordable health care, it is because I value health as a basic right of being a human.
When I advocate for measures to protect our earth, it is because I know that clean air and water and climate is essential for all creation.
As a liberal, it seems to me that my political truths differ from conservatives around me in one basic way: I am not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.
Two weeks ago, I was reminded all over again why Lincoln remains one of our most beloved leaders when I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. On this Independence Day, as we celebrate together, shoulder to shoulder and salute our shared heritage and freedom as Americans, I will be standing upon the strength and truth of Lincoln’s sincere words of encouragement, spoken generations ago at Gettysburg, when our nation was experiencing a great division. He stated that America could be, “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”…that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
We conservatives and liberals are more alike than we are different. May we reconcile our common values that will help us all, indeed help our nation, to make it.