For all its travails I think this country is still the "home of the free and the land of the brave." This is a nation born from a fight for liberty. This is a country that has opened its borders to refugees from other nations and embraced diversity. It is meant to be a country of majority rule and minority protection - the "melting pot" of human culture.
It is also a country born of genocide and built with slavery - a nation still scarred by racism, bigotry and oppression. That is a shame that is too often ignored, but lingers nonetheless.
This nation profits from supplying lethal weapons to warring parties around the world. It is the first and only nation to use the most destructive force ever inflicted on innocent men, women and children - the atomic bomb.
But, today I choose to honor the human rights the founders codified as self-evident - freedoms of expression, assembly, press, religion, privacy, self-defense, peer justice. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, self-incrimination, cruel and unusual punishment.
Today is also a day to honor those who fought for the rights of oppressed minorities, those who were denied the so-called American Dream because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. I thank those patriots who mobilized and stood before phalaxes of violent haters to seize and defend civil rights.
We are indeed a government, "of, by and for the people." But some of today's elected officials are the most partisan and obstructionist I have seen in my lifetime. They are beholden to greedy, cynical, manipulative, disingenuous corporate interests and supported by small-minded bigots who are poisoned with fear of an imaginary tyrannical government and threatened by social progress.
Right now, we live in a dangerous world, filled with ethnic hatred, religious intolerance, violent extremism, environmental calamity, political deceit, corporate malfeasance, economic inequality, ignorance, hunger, oppression and war.
Here, in America, for all our woes, we live in relative peace and harmony. But, too many of our own are still victims of discrimination in education, housing, health care and employment. Too many are poor, ignorant, homeless, ill and hungry.
Politicians today talk endlessly of the plight of the American Middle Class. Long forgotten are the least among us, those who have been left to fend for themselves in a cruel world. They, too, are our citizens. They too, are WE, THE PEOPLE.
So, WE, THE PEOPLE have responsibilities that go along with our rights.
We need to uphold the freedoms we have and protect and defend them whenever they are threatened.
We need to educate ourselves on the issues of our times and cast informed votes.
We need to demand and encourage an investigative, credible press.
We need to hold our elected officials accountable for the laws they enact.
We need to regulate industry for our protection.
We need to use our military might only when it is absolutely necessary.
We need to be engaged with the governing of our country and invested in the well-being of our electorate.
Beyond our responsibilities as American voters, we have moral obligations as citizens of the world. We need to be peaceful and respectful of all cultures. We need to do whatever we can to alleviate the pain and suffering of our fellow humans.
On the birthday of this still-great nation, I am grateful for the freedoms I enjoy, frustrated with the dysfunctional state of political affairs, saddened by the plight of so many who are hurting and ever vigilant against the forces of hatred.