Dear Mr. President,
Today was a good day. I was off work, I observed my one weekly holy day, Pancake Monday, with my best friend. We walked around a lake bantering about gun control with a republican friend, discussing our plans to go to Africa and ogling cute dogs. We went to the grocery store and spent way too much money on food, but then, as my friend wisely noted, you have to treat yourself, sometimes. This is our life; we work, we sleep, we make pancakes. This isn't particularly important, or even, I'd imagine, interesting, but I wanted to provide some context. April 19th, as a significant date, may have passed largely unobserved by all but those still mourning lost relatives from Oklahoma city, or the protesters along the Potomac, but it has made me pause, a moment, to reflect on my own feelings about government.
I often disagree with my government's policies and actions. During the years under President Bush, I even wondered at the legitimacy of his election in 2000. I see anti-government sentiment even more these days, from the Tea Party, to the birthers, to the absurdity of elected officials speaking out against the census. My libertarian friends are often quick to rail against taxes, gun control, and, of course, government health care. Maybe I idealize government, believing that it can change, it can grow more flexible and wise and just, that as it grows it can represent and include more of us. I'm not afraid of my government, because I believe I can change it. Am I arrogant? Am I deceived? Should I be stockpiling ammunition? Of course not.
I don't understand the rhetoric that depicts the people and the government as opposing forces. As though government were an independent entity that imposes its will upon us, and not our own representatives, our own elected leaders who are meant to be of us, by us and for us. When did we decide it was too much work? To show up at the polls, to write letters to the editor, or to congress, or to the White House, to run for office and keep our integrity? When did it become easier and more expedient to hold up signs and stock up on weapons, to treat fellow citizens like enemies? The disconnect between those with power and those with none has often bred violence, which is why our government is structured the way that it is. It's funny, I think, that those historically left behind, even assaulted by their own government- African Americans and other ethnic minorities, women, the poor, gay and lesbians; have little presence in the Tea Party or other anti-government groups. Why is it that the white, male, upper-middle class, the one constituency that's controlled and counted on the government's protection for the entirety of American history, makes up the majority of those groups calling for secession and insurrection? If any one has to fear their government, shouldn't it be those who've been enslaved, interred, ignored, or disenfranchised?
It seems as though the decrease in our injustice toward marginalized groups corresponds to the rise in anti-government sentiment; as though granting more freedom to those who had none makes every one else less free. I suppose there is some truth to this argument; the 13th amendment curtails my freedom to enslave another human, the 19th reduced the voting power of the male population to solely decide elections; but I don't think even the craziest of the Tea Party would call for a repeal of either of these extensions of government. I don't think that arguing with the anti-government protesters will change their mind; I think accepting the dichotomy of their accusations is granting them too much power. It isn't the people vs. the government, its the people who are willing to work for change vs. the people who'd be willing to see it all burn down to keep the cold consolation of being right from the start.
The government isn't all well-intentioned and it isn't always right. But the government is still my own, for better or worse, it represents me, and I represent it. I'm responsible for its actions, and it is responsible to me, as an informed and politically active citizen. Why can't that be enough? Our government is big and slow and frustrating and imperfect. But it keeps us safe and it keeps us free. Today should be a day when we're reminded of the power that we have, without violence, to make it better.