America, I Love You
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Well, you’re not going to get a year end review from me. I’ve been thinking all week — talking to you in my mind, actually — trying to come up with something uplifting to say. Running along in my thoughts, as a kind of bass line to the rest of it, are two sayings: “There’s no use complaining,” and “Don’t mourn, organize.”
The first of these sayings leads me logically to the second. OK, 2010 sucked. We all — that is, the 98% of us whose net worth doesn’t add up to that of the other 2% — took a heavy hit financially, and emotionally. Our collective assumptive state — the things we we think we know about lives and our society, mostly without recognizing that we assume them — has taken so many hits that we really don’t know what to expect next.
The other thing that’s been bopping around in my mind is part of a song my father taught me when I was a little girl. It’s called “America, I Love You,” and when I went looking for the lyrics I discovered it was written in 1915 but didn’t become popular until the days leading up to World War II.
My father (New Year’s Day would be his 107th birthday; he died 50 years ago come February.) was a gentle man, as close to a pacifist as you could get and not be one, but he went to enlist in the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor Day. They turned him down because he wore glasses. A year later he went, instead, to work at a factory that had been retooled to make aircraft parts instead of weaving rugs.
The melody and words to the song are at the link to the title, above. All I could remember were the beginning of the chorus
America, I love you,
You’re like a sweetheart of mine,
and the end of it
America, I love you,
And there’s a hundred million others like me.
The verses are about how immigrants settled this country and how there was room for both rich and poor, and then there’s this:
To give them protection
By popular election,
A set of laws they chose;
They’re your laws and my laws,
For your cause and my cause—
That’s why this country rose.
That must be where I got the idea that one of the purposes of our government is to protect the poor. That’s why I grieve for the America about which I sang my love as a child. When you’re four or five and somebody puts an idea in your head, it becomes part of your assumptive state, and when you that assumption turns false, you grieve.
I suppose part of the reason we seem no longer to welcome immigrants or to take it as our duty and our pride to protect those less lucky than we are is that there are now 308 million others. And that the people who stand to benefit most by a national decision that we can’t/don’t have to protect those less lucky than we are have been busy driving wedges between us to kill that sense of responsibility and cohesion.
We could stop letting them drive us apart, you know. We could stand together, and they’d be like nothing. There are so many more of us than there are of them.
You know those people who got elected promising to take their country back? Well, I want mine back, too, and I was here before them. I’m not going to let grief paralyze me, and I hope you won’t, either. We have a lot of work to do. Don’t mourn, organize.
My New Year’s wish for you is what you wish for yourself — as long as you wish it for everyone else, too.