4th of July – What Does it Mean to be an American?

Heritage unites us. Diversity is our strength.

Sometime during the 4th of July long weekend, take a break from your festivities to reflect on what it means to you to be an American.

I am all for whipping up a batch of your famous potato salad, or competing in a sack race with your kid, or dipping your toes in the ocean to celebrate the 4th of July. I am also for spending a few minutes contemplating what it means to be an American, which entails both rights and responsibilities.

In previous years, for 4th of July posts, I have railed against the American consumer label, suggested we declare our independence from harmful corporations, and proposed the right to a habitable planet as a new addition to the Bill of Rights. This year, I found myself drawn to the Statue of Liberty and thinking about what it means to be an American, today, as a member of a global society.

First, let’s remind ourselves of some of the salient facts about the Statue of Liberty and then contemplate being an American.

Statue of Liberty Brief History

Liberty Enlightening the World Poster 1884
Liberty Enlightening the World Poster, 1884

“The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” was a gift from the French people to the people of the United States to strengthen ties between the two countries and promote democracy.

Imagine the difficulties the French people had to overcome to finance, build, and then ship the 151’1” tall bronze statue in parts across the ocean in the nineteenth century. The United States encountered its own problems raising money and then constructing the enormous base that supports the 156-ton statue.

Originally, the intent was to unveil the Statue of Liberty in 1876 to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence but only her torch-bearing arm made it to the U.S. in time. The completed Statue of Liberty was dedicated ten years later on October 28, 1886.

The Statue of Liberty gained federal protections in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 by designating the statue and its site, called Fort Wood at the time, as a national monument.

During the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the War Department to turn over control of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and the rest of the island, known as Bedloe’s Island, to the National Park Service.

Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island by an Act of Congress in 1956 and nearby Ellis Island was added to the Statue of Liberty National Monument by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

The Statue of Liberty underwent a massive restoration project in the 1980s and she was rededicated on her centennial in 1986.

To this day, people around the world recognize the Statue of Liberty as a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of freedom and democracy.

Statue of Liberty Sonnet

As part of a fundraising effort for the statue’s pedestal in 1883, Emma Lazarus penned the now famous sonnet below. In 1903, her words were inscribed on a plaque and placed on the wall of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This beautiful and powerful poem speaks to the essence of what it means to be an American.

What it Means to be an American

We are all immigrants. Either you are from another land or your ancestors were. If you are a Native American, even your ancestors started out somewhere else, although it was a long, long time ago.

Today, the United States of America is home to a wondrous mix of people all seeking freedom, opportunity, equality, liberty, independence, democracy, and a chance for happiness. This is our heritage. Our diversity is our strength.

The healthiest ecosystems are the ones with a myriad of different species of plants and animals living together. Sometimes they compete with one another and sometimes they cooperate, but somehow they manage to find a balance for the good of the overall community.

It is going to take the kaleidoscope of American people all working together with other people around the world to grapple with global warming and to learn how to live sustainably on Earth. There is no Planet B.

We have our American heritage to guide us, but at the moment, we seem to be out of balance with an excess of competing against one another and not enough cooperating.

I wish I could wave a magic wand that would help Americans remember who we are and what we can accomplish when we work together, but alas, I do not have one. Yet, I am an American and I can do something.

This may sound silly or even ridiculous but I believe our country could use an influx of kindness, especially towards people who have dissimilar opinions, hold different beliefs, or disagree with us. I know that I could be more kind and I want to be. The good news is that neither you nor I need to wait even a moment to be kind to another person.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” —Amelia Earhart

This 4th of July, let’s celebrate being Americans and make a pledge to never miss an opportunity to be kind. We are the United States of America (the key word being united) so let’s act like it.

Related Posts

Resources

Trump Administration is Threatening Our National Monuments

Take action to protect our National Monuments!

The Trump administration is attacking our national monuments and seems hell bent on destroying some of these special places in the name of energy independence.

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” —Theodore Roosevelt

The United States federal government has a duty to protect and preserve our national monuments for the benefit of all Americans, present, and future. However, President Trump recently issued an Executive Order aimed at opening up some of our national monuments for oil and gas exploration and mining, thus demonstrating that he is unequal to the task of safeguarding America’s heritage.

So what is at stake?

What is a National Monument?

The term national monument seems confusing to me. When I think about the word monument, it brings to mind structures and statues. Although some do involve structures and statues, national monuments also encompass historic, scientific, archaeological, commemorative, and cultural objects and values of sites on federal land. National monuments can also be small and large parcels of land with unique and special features and even water bodies.

An important distinction is that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the President of the United States the authority to designate a national monument by issuing a presidential proclamation without requiring an act of Congress. The purpose of giving the president this authority is to enable him or her to protect and preserve landmarks, structures, objects, artifacts, and land that are important to America’s heritage and culture, especially those in danger of befalling harm, theft, or destruction.

The president does not unilaterally decide which locations or objects to designate as national monuments. The process involves gathering input from the public, businesses, community organizations, nonprofits, and local, state, and federal government agencies. The justification for establishing a national monument is outlined in the presidential proclamation designating it.

Historically, presidents have enlarged and occasionally diminished some national monuments designated by their predecessors. No president has ever overturned a national monument designation made by a predecessor. In some cases, national monuments have become national parks or national historic places via acts of Congress.

To date, there have been 157 national monuments designated by 16 presidents, beginning with President Theodore Roosevelt, a staunch conservationist who spearheaded the Antiquities Act and signed it into law on June 8, 1906.

Why are National Monuments Important?

National monuments are sites that have been set aside to protect and preserve our heritage, history, and culture. They are important places for learning, exploration, and fun. Let’s look a few national monuments and imagine the United States without them.

Below are some examples that will give you an idea our national monument diversity.

  • Statue of Liberty (NY)
  • Fort Sumter (SC)
  • Grand Canyon (AZ)
  • Craters of the Moon (ID)
  • George Washington Birthplace (VA)
  • Mt. St. Helens (WA)
  • Rainbow Bridge (UT)
  • Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (MD)
  • Devils Tower (WY)
  • Muir Woods (CA)

The above national monuments are not currently on the chopping block, so let’s look at the ones that are.

National Monuments that are Under Review

President Trump’s executive order directs the Department of the Interior to review all national monuments designated since January 1, 1996, by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and determine if they should be reduced or even abolished to enhance American energy independence.

The Department of the Interior has a list on their website, which includes 22 terrestrial and 5 marine national monuments: Arizona (4), California (6), Colorado (1), Idaho (1), Nevada (2), New Mexico (2), Maine (1), Montana (1), Oregon (1), Utah (2), Washington (1), Atlantic Ocean (1) and Pacific Ocean (4).

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Six of the national monuments are in my home state of California and one is almost in my backyard.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Interestingly, the threatened Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County, CA, near where I live, has two huge solar farms as neighbors that generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes (the total population of the County is 279,000).

People come from all over to visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument to view spectacular wildflowers in the spring, explore its unique geology, enjoy native flora and fauna, study ecosystems, and learn about the cultural heritage of the area.

The San Andreas Fault runs through the Carrizo Plain so environmental degradation aside, it does not seem too smart to add more fossil fuel extraction sites in and around the region. Building more roads and infrastructure in this rural area would cause a massive disruption to the people who live, farm, and ranch in the area and to the wildlife, which inhabits it.

The Carrizo Plain area is already contributing to national energy independence and the national monument is preserving the largest native grassland in California as well as several endangered species of animals and plants and cultural artifacts.

As far as I am concerned, to change the status or boundaries of the Carrizo Plain National Monument to allow energy speculation does not make sense from a business perspective and would be an environmental and social travesty.

Call to Action

I hope that like me you feel national monuments are an important part of America’s heritage and worth protecting.

Here are some ways you can help.

Public Comment

Make a public comment at www.regulations.gov. Enter docket DOI-2017-0002 into the search window on the site and click the “Comment Now!” button on the right. Alternately, mail your comment to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC 20240.

Important Dates: Written comments relating to the Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted before May 26, 2017, and written comments relating to all other National Monuments must be submitted before July 10, 2017.

Contact Elected Officials

Call, email, or write your elected officials and ask them to stand up for our national monuments.

Letter to the Editor

Write a letter to the editor or a viewpoint piece about why national monuments are important to you or tell a personal story about a specific national monument that is under review.

Social Media

Post national monument photos and comments on social media encouraging people to make a public comment.

Talk to People

Talk to your family, friends, and coworkers about this issue and ask them to get involved, too.

Thank you for taking action to protect our national monuments.

“Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Featured Image at Top: Wildflowers Bloom at Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County, CA in April 2017 – Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

Related Posts

Resources