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Who will save America?

By Mary Gaylord. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

“If America is to be saved, it won’t be because we are us. It won’t be because some columnist wrote soothing words. It will be because enough of us decided America was worth fighting for, and did.” - Leonard Pitts Jr, America is still well worth fighting for.

This week, I’ve found myself revisiting these words over and over again; turning them over in my head, trying to make sense of them; trying to find the real meaning; and the corresponding action required.

The first part’s easy — we’re not going to be saved just because “we are us.” America won’t be saved by simply believing that everything will turn out O.K. or by thinking somebody else will solve our problems. While some things do just seem to autocorrect, America, is not one of them.

Mr Pitts’ second statement also rings true. Yes, there is great power in the written word, and while it is one of many ways to fight for America it alone is not enough to save America.

So that brings us to the idea that saving America requires that enough of us decide America is worth fighting for and we get down to the business of doing it.

Is America worth fighting for? This question merits consideration. I’ve never asked myself this question before. While I have never lived in another country, I do know that some have systems and practices in place that I think are better than ours. And I know that there are many more that have systems and practices in place that make them places where I’d never want to live. I’ve lived here all my life. My children were born here. My ancestors immigrated to America and made a better life here. So for me, the answer is a resounding “yes,” America is worth fighting for.

Will enough of us fight to save America and more specifically, will I fight to save America?

What does it mean to fight for and save America? This question has been dogging me since I read Mr. Pitts’ column.

Americans know how to fight. Unfortunately we know all too well how to fight each other; in fact it sometimes feels like that is all we ever do. This is not the kind of fight I’m talking about — rather, how do we learn to fight the good fight and save America?

In my own part of the world, I take on what I believe to be the good fight in my work with Living Room Conversations. Much of the time it’s illuminating and greatly rewarding to learn about other points of view through Living Room Conversations. And sometimes it’s really hard and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end when I hear something that goes against my grain. But the good outcomes outweigh the bad by a landslide and I don’t become weaker by hearing others and making a genuine effort to understand points of view that I don’t normally espouse. In fact the opposite occurs — I become better informed and more compassionate about the experiences of my fellow Americans.

My next approach to grapple with this huge question led me to take it to the council (aka my family dinner table). Interestingly, this question sparked a great deal of lively conversation. I was particularly surprised and buoyed by the enthusiasm of my 5th and 7th graders to answer this question and to do so with great passion. The collective wisdom at the dinner table unearthed the following ideas about fighting to save America:

  • Vote, march, be informed, contact your representatives, and participate in our democracy.
  • Actively support ideas that you believe are good and worthy of being advanced. Actively protest those ideas that do not support our nation.
  • Avoid acting solely in self-interest. Show support for ideas that further us as a nation.
  • Share power with the less fortunate. Until all people have a voice, including the least among us, our democracy will never be healthy.
  • Look for the light. If you can’t find the light, be the light and grow the light (I have a very philosophical children).
  • Take a long-range view. When you feel hopeless and helpless, take a look at history. Change does indeed happen.
  • Focus on shared core values. Find a way to join others who share your principles and continue to expand the circle to include more people with diverse perspectives and experiences.

Not bad for some dinner table wisdom. My feelings of being overwhelmed by the scope of the question of how to fight to save America were suddenly replaced by hope and a reminder of some very doable ideas and actions to take toward participating in the good fight.

Watching my 11-year-old daughter’s eyes well up with tears and her chin quiver as she spoke her peace on this subject, I knew that if she could feel so moved and impassioned by this noble fight, so must I. It turns out that fighting the good fight to save America is absolutely worth it.

Mary Gaylord is a Program Development Partner with Living Room Conversations, an organization committed to bringing together people with differences in a friendly, structured, conversational format. She has worked as a community mediator, victim-offender reconciliation specialist, and facilitator of bully prevention programming for school-aged children. She lives in the Rocky Mountains and is passionate about spending time outdoors with family and friends.