“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure Domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
We the people is a direct reference to The Founding Fathers. The Framers of this great document of freedom making all kinds of ambitious promises. It was ratified in 1788. 233 years later it remains the governing document of our free, democratic society. But, over those 233 years, American citizens of color and women have discovered that they are excluded from “we the people” and every day and in every way are denied the blessings of liberty and justice promised by the Founders.
A More Perfect Union
To the Founding Fathers’ credit, they were after a free society. And wanted to build into their government – at the get go - lots of liberties for their citizens. And they did. And they kept building on those freedoms over time. Perfecting the idea that the government of the United States served its citizens, not the other way around.
The Bill of Rights is brilliant - both in its broad strokes and its specific focus. In the First Amendment alone, “we the people” get some big, big promises about our privileges and immunities.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
According to the First Amendment, human rights and individual freedoms hit the jackpot in America. But these promises made have not been fulfilled – not by a long shot. These promised rights and freedoms are enjoyed by the ruling class of this great democratic experiment of ours – white men of privilege and property.
We’re all getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. For many of us it will be quite a reunion, after almost two heartbreaking years of a pandemic. People who have not seen family will finally get to sit around the dinner table. Eat way too much of their favorite foods. Swap stories; hug each other without fear and enjoy the closeness that you only feel with family. It’s ironic. Because the source of our celebrating Thanksgiving in America comes with a lot of pain and regret for the Wampanoags, the tribe that helped the Pilgrims survive.
Darius Coombs, a Mashpee Wampanoag cultural outreach coordinator, said there’s such misinterpretation about what Thanksgiving means to American Indians. “For us, Thanksgiving kicked off colonization,” he said. “Our lives changed dramatically. It brought disease, servitude and so many things that weren’t good for Wampanoags and other Indigenous cultures.”
The Founders made the promise of equality. But Indigenous People who welcomed the white man to the shores of their home, where their ancestors had lived for ten thousand years, were imprisoned in the white man’s religion and culture, abused, enslaved, and became, ultimately, victims of genocide. Not a good way to establish liberty and justice.
Promote the General Welfare
In order to build this great nation of ours, the Founders did what we’re still doing, they borrowed heavily. Went into debt. And they didn’t just borrow money. They borrowed labor. To be accurate, they stole labor. The wealth of the nation was – at least in the south – generated by slave labor.
“If the Confederacy had been a separate nation, it would have ranked as the fourth richest in the world at the start of the Civil War.”
So, the promise of equality for “we the people,” excluded the Indigenous Tribes and the human beings who were stolen from their ancestral lands and sold into slavery so they could make white men of privilege rich. It took 13 Amendments to the Constitution and a Civil War before African-Americans were granted their freedom.
Secure the blessings of liberty is one of my favorite phrases.
It means being free from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views. Freedom to live the life you want to live. Having your own set of values, exercising your sacred right to vote. Yes. I believe voting is the most sacred right of all. Liberty welcomes all to Ellis Island in the form of a great statue, a gift from France, designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi with a metal frame built by Gustave Eiffel.
Ironic that Liberty takes the form of a woman. It took women 144 years to earn the right to vote. The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. It was closely followed by the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870.
“One of three amendments passed during the Reconstruction era to abolish slavery and establish civil and legal rights for Black Americans, the 14th Amendment would become the basis for many landmark Supreme Court decisions over the years.”
The 15th Amendment granted the sacred right to vote to newly freed black men, but women were left behind. All women. Their struggle continued. 50 more years. Until finally, the wives, daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, mothers and grandmothers of the men who went proudly to the polls were enfranchised and granted the scared right to vote.
So, what about the promise of the Founders? If America is the land of liberty, why were the rights of non-whites and women erased? And why are these groups not welcomed into the body politic of full equality as “we the people?”
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. There it is, in a nutshell. All wrapped up in the beautiful bow of the American dream. Except there’s one problem. The language. “All men are created equal” comes with exceptions, erasure of the rights of men of color and women, all women.
Nine rants later I’ve made an important discovery. As much as I love my country – and I do. As hard as I have worked and struggled to fashion my own version of the American Dream - and I have. I find myself caught in a Gender Gap. While I firmly believe in my equal rights, the society in which I live does not. And, frankly, it never has. But a promise is a promise. And as a citizen of these United States, I will continue to push for equal rights for all human beings. That’s what a true feminist believes. That is the action a true feminist takes. And my rants and raves are a way for me to share the stories that don’t get told about this great democratic experiment. We the people includes me and my fellow citizens of color. And exclusion and erasure are violent acts by people of privilege, without legal, moral or political justification.
Here’s my fav quote from that article.
“America works. America has worked for more than 200 years. The character of the American people deserves most of the credit. But close behind are our vital institutions. Note that in our federal government, empowerment of the minority is established in just one institution: the Senate. The majority decides in the House; the majority decides in the Supreme Court; and the president is a majority of one. Only in the Senate does the minority restrain the power of the majority.”
I admire Mitt Romney. Though I vehemently disagree with his policies, I’ve always found him sincere in his beliefs and his service to America. I am especially grateful for the incredible work he has done since President Biden took office to create bipartisanship that seeks to better opportunities for Americans as we face the challenges of failed infrastructure and mounting threats caused by climate change.
But, after reading this op-ed, I have questions for the Senator.
America works. For who? For the Indigenous People? For African-Americans? For Non-Whites? For Immigrants? For Women? Or does America just work for you? You’re a white male and that grants you privilege. But you, and your fellow Senators, have not yet figured out how to share that privilege. And the filibuster has been used by white men of privilege to stop legislation that would, in truth, greatly improve the lives of non-whites and women in America. Because for us, America has never worked. And the promises made by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have been broken many times over to the people left out of the American dream.
Women’s rights, the tribal lands and cultures of American Natives, the civil rights of non-white Americans, these are not causes. These are not socially or politically liberal agendas. These are American citizens who are robbed daily of their equal rights. It’s incredibly painful, sad and infuriating to have to spell this out, but “we the people” means all of us. Every American citizen of this country. But you and your fellow Senators of privilege value power over freedom, wealth over welfare and obstruction over public good. The equal rights of non-white and female American citizens have been under attack for two hundred plus years. And despite adaptations and changes to the filibuster over those years, you and your fellow Senators of privilege have failed to make it a tool for liberty and justice for all and instead have used it as a weapon against the very people it should protect.
Change is messy. It’s hard. We get scared. We allow fear to stop us from making America better. Upending the mistakes and exclusions of the past. I believe that’s what Senator Romney is doing. Using the threat of a second term for Donald Trump as a reason not to end the filibuster. Inciting fear. But that is an old and tired excuse for sticking with injustice and inequalities. Not to mention it assumes another four years for Trump would come with a neatly tied package of a Republican-dominated Senate.
But what happens if the filibuster continues, Senator Romney?
What happens to the homeless? What happens to the women living in domestic violence shelters? What happens to the black trans women who fear for their lives every day? What happens to voting rights? What happens to a single mother who needs child care? What happens to women who have been sexually assaulted or raped? What happens to the refugees fleeing gang violence in their home countries? What happens to people who are poor? Who are hungry? What happens to the black men and women wrongfully incarcerated? What happens to the grieving family of Ahmaud Arbery? Who must watch 11 white jurors and 1 black juror and hope against hope that “The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice?”
Senator Romney made this direct statement in his Washington Post Op-Ed.
“Let us also be clear that those who claim the filibuster is racist know better. For former president Barack Obama to make this absurd charge after he himself vigorously defended the filibuster just a few years ago is both jarring and deeply disappointing. I don’t recall a single claim from Democrats that employing the filibuster was racist when they were in the minority.
Senator Romney, as a white man, you have no experience of American racism that even begins to equate to former President Obama’s experience. Many who have used the filibuster, then and now, had or have a racist agenda. And I shouldn’t have to remind you that America has changed drastically from just a few years ago. Those racist agendas have become emboldened and weaponized by former President Trump. A man your political party supported. A man who is not only racist, but who has close ties with white supremacy groups and whose direct hate speech cost the lives of Americans of color.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr urged us to Make a Way Out of No Way. If I could lunch with the noble but oh so privileged Senator Mitt Romney, I would urge him to reconsider his passion for the filibuster. I would tell him as many times and in as many ways as it took to make him understand that America is way late on its promise. Of equality. Of liberty. Of justice. For all. I would do everything in my good power to persuade him to Make a Way out of No Way. End erasure. End violence against all Americans - all women – and people of color. Share in the great wealth of this nation by legislating that ALL pay their fair share of taxes. Secure the sacred right to vote – for all – and for all time. Fulfill the promise of America for all citizens, no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, place of origin or socio-economic background. Bend toward justice.