American experiment still thrives

By Executive Director Joshua Wisch, as published in the Star Advertiser 7/4/2018.

http://www.staradvertiser.com/2018/07/04/editorial/island-voices/american-experiment-still-thrives/

America is an experiment and experiments are messy things. By their nature, experiments upset the status quo, the world as it is. They can be frightening. They can be dangerous. They can be divisive.

But they cannot fail. Not really. As Thomas Edison noted after being asked whether he failed to make a light bulb work after so many tries, he replied he hadn’t failed – he had just found a thousand ways it didn’t work. But the point is, he kept trying.

Recent events have been discouraging. We watched thousands of children being separated from their parents and put in cages. We watched the Supreme Court issue a ruling that appeared to validate the President’s decision to ban an entire religion from United States shores.

At times like these it can feel like our American experiment is failing. After all, our country was founded on families coming to here together to build a better life. It was strengthened by people choosing to come to the United States because they couldn’t worship God as they saw fit in their home countries, but they could here. Or they could choose to worship no God at all. At a glance, it can seem like we’re now going backwards.

But look closer. In Hawai’i and nationwide, people from every political affiliation spoke out quickly against the policy of separating children from parents. Our free press investigated, demanded answers, and refused to accept talking points. The ACLU sued to stop the policy, protesters took to the streets, and every day people made their legislators’ phone lines light up.

And look at the travel ban. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision got it wrong. But unlike the last time a President did something so onerous (President Roosevelt’s decision to inter thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II – proving that discrimination is bipartisan), this time people rose up – starting right here in Hawai’i – to show the Muslim community we’re all part of one American family. And the recent protest marches show people are still getting involved. 

Other countries – even “developed” countries as we tend to refer to them in the West – don’t enjoy the same freedoms we take for granted here. In England, legislation has recently been introduced to punish journalists who obtain leaked information. In Israel, there are new proposals to criminalize taking photographs of Israeli soldiers if doing so is intended to “undermine their spirit.” In the United States, if such proposals were drafted, they would be dead on arrival. Our glorious First Amendment simply would not allow them. Even in these hyper-partisan times – and despite the protestations of our current President – people running the gamut of the political spectrum all agree that the right to speak freely and protest will always be a binding thread of the fabric of our nation.

Dissent is as American as apple pie.

So, on this July 4th, go outside and enjoy the parades and the barbecues. But as you’re watching the floats glide past and listening to the marching bands play, take a moment to think about what that flag you’re waving represents. It embodies 250 years of trial and error, victory and defeat, and pride and shame. It means we keep trying to make this a more perfect union. It celebrates our right to march, protest, petition our government for a redress of grievances, and to make our voice be heard. And never forget that even in these islands in the Pacific, our voices can be heard all the way in Washington, D.C. 

But sometimes, we have to shout.