In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy asked Americans to honor their social contract:
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need—not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
America’s founders would have approved that message. They risked their fortunes and lives to create a government that served the common good and expected that – in return for the benefits of citizenship – Americans would invest themselves in governing the nation. They even expected us to lay down our lives, if that’s what it took to protect the republic.
This weekend, Atatiana K. Jefferson, an African-American woman in Fort Worth, Texas, was shot to death in her own home by a white police officer. She was just 28. She was playing a video game with her nephew at the time.
This isn’t just a problem for Fort Worth, this is our problem. If we expect to be safe in our own homes, then it’s on us to make sure others are safe in their homes as well. Tweeting “thoughts and prayers“–the GOP’s go-to response–doesn’t cut it. We can trust in God, but we have to row for shore, too.
That’s the one good thing to come out of Donald Trump’s presidency: many of us have finally grabbed an oar on the Ship of State and are rowing. We’re more involved in governing now, shaping the America we want to live in.
If we’re grieving for Atatiana, for example, we may pick up the phone, call our local police department, and ask them what they’re doing to make sure our community doesn’t have a similar tragedy. We can ask how they train and supervise their officers, and start a petition to demand improvements. We can request a citizens’ advisory board for the police department, and serve on it. We can attend a city council meeting to raise the issue there.
That’s how we deprogram America, reversing the Koch brothers‘ brainwashing. Their mantra might as well be “I got mine; to hell with you,” and they want us all to chant along – because what they care about is what America can do for them.
So it’s up to us, every day, to do one good thing for America. Because as the world warms, we’re going to need each other even more than we already do.
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