A version of this article was originally Posted in Ruminations, February 1, 2022.
The story of America cannot be told in terms of what we are or what we have been. The American story is that we are a people in motion – we are going someplace. Someplace better than where we are or where we were.
It has always been that way. The story of the First Americans is that they moved across the vast expanses of land and water. They were nomadic, because nature is always in motion, always changing, and they were a people of nature. That is the story of the seasons and the story of the waters and the story of the earth. And the human story – we moved from stone age to iron age and onward. We moved from individuals to families to tribes to social groups.
And so it was when the explorers drew up the path, to be followed by refugees, settlers, and yes, slave traders. Everyone was in motion, some unwillingly. And once they came here, they built settlements, then villages, then colonies, then a country. And Americans have been building more, moving forward, ever since. It’s what we do.
On the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Obama talked about our Constitution’s call. He called the Constitution’s Preamble
… a creed written into our founding documents: “We the People … in order to form a more perfect union.” … These are not just words. They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. … And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.
It’s not about where we are, it’s about the journey we are on. It’s not about what we are, it’s about what we are trying to become. It’s about trying to be more, to be better. It’s about “We shall overcome someday.”
That’s our human story. Our American story. Our Democratic story. We are making things better. Every day, in every way, we find another step that takes us forward. We look back to see where we were and vow to not go there again. We look back to see how far we’ve come, how many steps we’ve taken, and determine to take one more step forward toward freedom, toward justice, toward equality, toward opportunity.
We are the party that is moving forward – toward our ideal. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have our eyes on the prize.
I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I‘ve looked over. And I‘ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I‘m happy, tonight. I‘m not worried about anything. I‘m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
We do not fear the future. We are creating the future. We do not long to return to the past. We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress to go back now, to return to the human shortcomings of yesterday. We are in motion – all of human history has been about people in motion. That’s what Americans have done since before histories were written, and that’s what we are determined to do still. Because we are Democrats. And we are Americans. And progress is what we do.
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