• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Thanksgiving, 2008

Deep in my heart,
I do believe,
That we shall overcome some day
We Shall Overcome
Anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement

I wrote my first essay on freedom 7 years ago, on that first Thanksgiving after the horrors of 9/11. In the nearly 50 essays I have written since that fateful day I have struggled to articulate an America that is true to its ideals. As my readers know, while I am unashamedly more socially liberal than conservative, I have always stressed in my essays the ways in which we are united, rather than the ways we are separated. I have also expressed my reading of history, suggesting that we, the people, have become ready for a new generation of American leadership, one designed to bring us together rather than separating us from each other.

I believe America took a major step in that direction on Election Day. And on this special day, the day we, the people, have set aside for us to give thanks for our many blessings, there is nothing I am more thankful for than the outcome of this year’s election.

Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, reminded Americans that we are all friends. Obama said the same thing on election night. We Americans are friends. And friends share what is in their hearts.

Therefore, instead of writing from the perspective of America’s ideals, as I have always done in the past, I have written this essay from my own personal perspective. It reflects the joy in my heart as I have seen our ideals become so much more real in this election. This essay is not about what Obama’s election means to America. It’s about what Obama’s election means to me.

********************************
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
Dr. Martin Luther King
March on Washington

Three weeks ago, America bestowed on me the greatest gift that a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal can bestow on a citizen. Three weeks ago, we, the people, showed ourselves and the world that America can walk its talk. What a gift.

On Monday evening, the night before the election I was walking Keedo, our dog, up our hill. I was listening to 1960s protest music on my iPod: Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan. Towards the end of the union song Solidarity Forever, Pete Seeger sang “We can bring to birth a new land from the ashes of the old,” As I heard those words I started to see images in my mind from the 1960s—Bobby Kennedy brushing his hair back, Martin Luther King at the March on Washington, Johnson signing the voting rights act. These images from my past began to intersperse with images of Barack Obama. My eyes literally filled with tears for what I hoped America was about to do that next day, election day..

My love of the great American experiment of liberty was instilled in me in a small conservative town in northwestern Pennsylvania. I was in the 4th grade when Mr. Welch taught me about the founders—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and the others. He taught me about their courage against the British and the wisdom they displayed throughout our Constitution. Mr. Welch made us memorize the defining words of the Declaration—We hold these truths to be self-evident …, the Preamble to the Constitution—We, the People of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect Union, and the Gettysburg Address, particularly the beginning that defines us as a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and its magnificent ending—that government of the people, by the people and for the people does not perish from the earth. Mr. Welch was the proud grandson of Col. Norman J. Maxwell of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a union regiment in the Civil War.

My family moved to Detroit, Michigan when I was twelve. It was here that I first saw black and white up-front in America. A white family sold a home on our street to a black family. Fearing a steep drop in home values, all the white homeowners—like lemmings—immediately sold their homes. The neighborhood went from all white to all black seemingly overnight. It seemed to me that the actions of the white families was somewhat misguided as it was their rush to sell their homes that precipitated the steep decline in home prices that they wanted to avoid. Duh! It seemed obvious to me that whites could have kept their home prices high simply by refusing to panic. It was clear that in racism, everyone lost.

I first got involved in the civil rights movement in the late 1950s. One of the images that surfaced as I watched the election results was of me as a young student picketing the Woolworth store in downtown Detroit because Blacks could not sit at Woolworth lunch counters in the South.

Watching the election returns, my mind was full of images from those days of struggle nearly 50 years ago. Images of tear gas and billy clubs on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Other images of police dogs and fire hoses on peaceful marchers. Images of the Birmingham Church Bombing where 3 young girls died. Images of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and too many other martyrs. And those most terrifying of images. Of Bobby. And Jack. And Martin. And Medgar. And Malcolm. Dead. And Kent State. And the 50,000 who died in Vietnam. All Dead.

I cried for my Country as the election returns came in. I cried for all we’ve been through together in the 400 years since the Jamestown Colony and Plymouth Rock to get to this historic night. And I cried tears of joy for the history we had made for America that day. We the people, who engraved slavery into the very fabric of our Constitution. We, the people, only a half century after the yoke of segregation had been lifted from the sons and daughters of slaves. We, the people. Free at last.

It was in the civil rights movement that I came of political age. Mr. Welch may have provided the ingredients—freedom, liberty and a civil body politic—but it was the civil rights movement that forged them into the values I hold most dear. All men and woman are created equal … with liberty and justice for all … so that we may secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

As I sat watching Ohio fall to Obama, I thought again of Dr. King’s prophetic words:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

As soon as Obama’s victory was assured, I called my son Jonathan. We laughed and cried together, this white man and his African-American son, overjoyed at what we, the people, had done that day.

And my favorite part. The icing on the cake. That extra scoop of ice cream. Black though he may be, Obama wasn’t elected as a Black President. Barack Obama was elected as a President who happens to be Black, just like John Kennedy was elected as a President who happens to be Catholic.

I have never been so proud to be an American.

Let Freedom Ring.

Copyright © 2008. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

Join the Agnostic Patriot Email List

Get these essays sent to your inbox:

Speak Your Mind

*