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A Country Founded on Challenging Itself
~ Chase Voirin
It’s easy to look back on previous generations and
compare the current challenges we face today to
those they faced during their heyday. What is
impossible to do is go back in time to fully understand
what those challenges were and how they developed
to shape the future. The United States of America
was founded on bloodshed, enslavement, land-theft
and cultural genocide. Sure, not every colonial settler
partook in all or even one of these activities, but it’s still a sobering feeling to look back in time at this Nation’s history and notice the myriad human rights, equality and sovereignty issues that have reverberated to our present-day issues. One could almost say this country was founded in a deep pit, and has been trying to dig itself out ever since. But perhaps there was some hope in the form of our Nation’s policy, cast forth through the Constitution that has left just enough room for evolution of human rights to take place, to allow this country to mend itself. Perhaps our white forefathers had enough foresight to understand that future generations will not have the same mindset as them, and that this country will need to continue to adapt in order to survive.
This country was founded by immigrants who didn’t want to be a part of Great Britain anymore. Hence the creation of the Declaration of Independence that deemed every human as having the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This country expanded on countless broken treaties with the Indigenous peoples of this continent, as white settlers continued to realize the vast wealth of land and natural resources that stretched from East to West coasts, as if God had created a Manifest Destiny for them to take it. And it wasn’t until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, 148 years after the creation of the Declaration of Independence, that the Indigenous people finally had the opportunity to pursue “Happiness”, or at least what was left of it. And after much trial and error in dealing with Native Americans, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was put forth in an attempt to right some of the wrongs brought to Indigenous peoples of America, and has shaped our Indian Reservation systems of today.
At one time, much of this country’s economy was placed on the backs of black slaves. It wasn’t until the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and subsequent ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 that black slaves could actually be termed “African American”. Of course it would be nearly 100 years later that the Civil Rights Act (1964) put a legal end to public segregation, and there are many locations in this country still working towards ending the “mental” segregation that doesn’t show itself on a sign or in a document.
The people most often forgotten in shaping this country are the countless women who were the backbone of the family units among every nationality, race, and ethnicity. Often unappreciated throughout our history, it wasn’t until 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment that women received the right to vote. And considering there have usually been more women than men in sheer population within this country, one can begin to realize the monumental ramifications this would have on future political elections. Of course women are still fighting for more subtle, yet highly important, rights such as equal hiring opportunities, promotions and compensation as their male employee counterparts.
Every nationality that has immigrated to this country has been persecuted and scorned by the immigrants who preceded them. From the Irish to the Italians to the Polish to the Hispanics, who all contributed significantly to this country’s culture and economy, immigrants have never initially been looked at as equal to those who arrived before them. That is why it is easy to overlook the multiple technological and educational advancements our country has made from the contribution of immigrants who went on to receive an education. And that is precisely why it is dangerous to block immigrants who work in the U.S. from other countries, including those from predominantly Muslim-worshipping countries.
This country has mostly ignored the fact that people have been attracted to the same sex for centuries, and that the ability to choose a partner for marriage is a key aspect of pursuing what makes us happy in life. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. Bringing further light to the topic of gender-identification and the issues arising from there. This continues to be a contentious topic moving forward past my generation.
The United States of America was founded on troubled times, with good intentions for those who founded it. America has a bloody history full of atrocities and practices that look barbaric and crude by today’s standards. This country is relatively young, and many of these key human rights issues were sorted out not so long ago, relatively speaking. And one need not only look at human rights policies to understand how this country is continuing to heal. Policies such as the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 was established to bring this country out of the Great Depression and to set the framework for our economy not to make the same mistakes it had previously. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 was put in place to give greater precedence to environmental laws and issues.
What people tend to forget when comparing their generation’s challenges with previous ones is that many of these significant acts for what was just and right were established at the country’s reluctance to change, which was manifested by heated opposition. People fail to realize the level of fear of the unknown of what enacting these policies would mean for our Nation and how they would shape the lives of future generations. And people often forget the multitude of seemingly miniscule battles forged, won and lost to enact those changes. And many Americans fail to realize that the work isn’t done yet.
So, when I hear an individual make a derogatory comment demonstrating their lack of understanding of the current challenges of my generation, such as the banning of immigrants from Muslim-worshipping countries, to the Black Lives Matter movement, to Climate Change, and the protests at Standing Rock, I implore them to look at the history of this country and how it was founded and how it has been trying to correct itself ever since. I try to point out the progress that our Nation has made by enabling policies for what is right, and before one rolls their eyes at the term “political correctness”, they should try to realize it’s that very drive for perfection for what is just and what is right that can truly excel our country into the future. These challenges are never without strong opposition, but we must continue to strive for key rights of our citizens, economy and environment if we want to continue to adapt and survive. It is this activism for what is right that continues to strengthen our country, even when it feels like it’s splitting at the seams. The challenges of future generations will be different than todays, but will still be rooted in the notion that fighting for what is just and what is right is the only way to make America great. Because this country was founded on challenging itself, and it’s the only we can truly progress.