4th of July Message
My message this 4th of July.
The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, I loved the thrill of staying up past my bedtime to watch the fireworks with my friends. We’d sit in the humid night with our ice pops swatting away mosquitoes and waiting for the grand finale where we’d feel the booms in our chests and leave with our ears still ringing. We were blissfully unaware of politics and the issues of the day.
As I got older, July 4th began to take on a deeper importance to me. My parents immigrated here from India and Poland in their 20s with few possessions, but with an intense desire to better their lives. Whenever I would complain about something happening here, my dad would say “Just remember, in no other country would we have these opportunities.” That didn’t prevent me from complaining, but it did make me stop and think about the freedoms and opportunities that this country afforded me, however imperfect it is. July 4th became a day for me to reflect on what this country has given my family and, as a citizen, what responsibilities I owe it. This year, I decided to write down my thoughts and share them with you.
The 4th of July celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, a document that has inspired people seeking a better life for themselves and for their families in their own countries. I read it again this year for the first time in a while (You can read it here: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript).
In my view, the most moving part of the Declaration is not the well-known “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but rather its conclusion, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” This statement recognizes the necessity of the supporters to unite in concerted action if the Declaration’s goals would have any chance of being fulfilled. As Benjamin Franklin more succinctly put it, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
What do these words mean for us today at a time where many Americans feel politically polarized, angry, exhausted, fearful, and mistrustful of their fellow citizens and government? As Americans, what should we be doing at this time in our nation’s history?
First, we must recognize that there are those who benefit from our citizenry being divided against each other and are actively working to sow discord. We must resist this temptation. If we are busy fighting with each other, convinced that the other side is evil, stupid, or corrupt, we cannot have honest conversations to solve the very difficult problems facing us. Instead, we retreat to our corners, communicate with only those who agree with us, attack the motives of others, and refuse to even consider that we may learn something from someone with whom we disagree. We accomplish nothing that way.
Several weeks ago, I invited North Carolina State Senator Chuck Edwards to breakfast. Though our politics are quite different, we found that we had things in common – we’re both small business owners trying to run our companies and represent our constituents as best we can. We talked about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of irate emails and phone messages, where people impugned your motives and accused you of corruption or worse. I shared with him my concerns about City Council districts and he explained to me his genuine reasons for why he thought they were important. At the end of our conversation, though we still disagreed, we heard each other out and left with a better understanding and respect of the other’s point of view.
I strongly encourage all of you who are reading this to reach out to someone with whom you differ politically and, through genuine conversation, to find the values that you share. If you haven’t done this in a while, it may be difficult to do – especially if the other person sees the world in a very different way than you. But you will have shared values. If you are religious, think of them as your fellow brother or sister. If you both are parents, see their children as your own. If you consider yourself a patriot, see them as a fellow citizen. Most importantly, see them as a person whose views matter as much as yours.
Second, we must recognize our responsibilities to act to strengthen our communities and our democratic institutions. The drumbeat of terrible news over the last couple of months has been exhausting. Fundamental lessons that I learned in my civics class have been cast aside as if they never mattered. It is not time to turn away, but rather to act in whatever way that you can contribute. If you are feeling overwhelmed, and there are days where I do, take a very small action – whether it is calling an elected official, checking in on a neighbor, spending an hour volunteering, or writing a small check to a cause you support. You will not only feel better, but by your small act, you will do some good and motivate others.
Since December, I have had the honor of serving as a council member through some turbulent times for our city. I am continuously inspired by those here who are working to make Asheville a better place to live – a place where all residents can go to sleep each night feeling safe, fed, healthy and valued. A place where we focus on the needs of our residents and neighborhoods, where we permit rational and responsible development, and where we work towards a diverse local economy with strong wages.
These are not goals that can be exclusively claimed by any political party or person; rather, they belong to all of us. Put a different way, all of us are responsible for them. We have a great deal of work to be done that can only be accomplished if we are united, if we are willing to speak honestly to each other, if we are willing to truly listen, and if we are willing to act.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and reactions. I wish you and your family all the best this 4th of July.