I am sorry. To the brave men and women who have given their lives in service of this country I call home, I am sorry.
You sacrificed for the ideals of this nation, for the ideals of freedom and liberty and justice. You gave your lives with those ideals in mind, sometimes defending the freedoms I enjoy, other times fighting to enable others to enjoy those freedoms. And I am sorry that I have not done my part.
On this Memorial Day, I am sorry that I have not been brave enough to take a stand for what America is truly supposed to be about: the truth that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I have not stood up as the rights of people in the LGBTQ community (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened. I have not stood up as the rights of Muslims (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened. I have not stood up as the rights of the poor, of people of color, of immigrants (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened.
Dear brave, fearless fighters we remember today, I have been so distracted this past year by the ugly, cruel bigotry I see growing throughout this country. And I have been reminded that it’s nothing new. The country some of you fought for in 1776 was a country that enshrined the sin of slavery. The country some of you fought for in 1941 was a country where Jim Crow was the law, and women were expected to stay in the home, raising the children. From the very beginning of European settlement in America, the story of “freedom of religion” was the story of “freedom of religion for Puritans, but nobody else.” There has always been nastiness in America, there have always been fear and bigotry. And I am sorry that that’s all I’ve remembered lately; I’ve just given into that, and started to bitterly accept that that’s just who we are.
And while our nation does indeed have this underbelly, that’s not all that we are. And I believe it’s not at all what you fought for.
I believe you fought for something better. You fought for the America that declared independence from a “tyrant prince,” not seeking selfish gain, but seeking freedom for a whole people. You fought not for the America that has kept people of color down, but for the America that has actively fought that all along, breaking down the chains of slavery, of Jim Crow, of segregation; the America that continues to proclaim, despite any evidence to the contrary, that black lives matter too. You fought not for the America that kept women in their place, but for the America that has actively fought that all along, the tens of thousands of women who have always persisted; and those certain men who saw that the women were right, who supported them or quietly stepped aside to make room. You fought for the America that is always growing in its understanding of what liberty really means, always growing in its understanding of who is included in those who are “created equal.” Always growing, and always pushing and pulling and fighting if necessary.
I think you fought not for America as it was, or as it is, but for America as it could be. This grand experiment is one that will never be fulfilled; this shining beacon on a hill is always just around the corner, never here now. For there will always be injustice. There will always be poverty. There will always be bigotry. But America always pushes itself forward. The true hope of America is that tomorrow might be a little more just than today. Tomorrow, life might be a little better for an immigrant than today. Tomorrow, the people who are oppressed might be more free. Tomorrow, the people who enjoy power over others might be toppled. I had almost given up on that hope. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that I let your sacrifice be in vain in my life.
I thank you for your service, your sacrifice, your belief in the goodness of the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I will try to do better in the coming year. I will try to do my part to make this nation worthy of your sacrifice. I will try to believe in the tomorrow of America, and do what I can to make that tomorrow a better day. The Dream of America is something that we need to work for. And I think it’s worth it.