American's basic belief in unity through diversity
By Ellen Stuart Roberts
On The Law
Sept. 11 will be the true test of our national and state
constitutions and the ideals behind them. Will we rise to the challenge or will
the terrorists be successful in setting us up to defeat ourselves by becoming
the "house divided" that cannot stand?
I am not a constitutional scholar, but in difficult times, it is
essential to go back to one’s core values. This leads me to our Declaration of
Independence, which was succinct, yet raw with emotion. The colonists told the
British king that he wasn’t fit to rule this new country because he wasn’t
respectful of the differences among people that the colonists demanded be
The colonists were willing to give their lives to achieve a
nation founded on principled tolerance and equality. A nation where the common
good takes precedence over the privileged few.
Our federal Constitution creates a "more perfect
union" than what existed before the United States. It speaks of a more
perfect, not "the" perfect union. Our founders were realists as they
set forth that lofty goal, allowing for the fact that more than 200 years later,
we are still trying to get it perfect.
Colorado’s Constitution also has a Bill of Rights that begins
with "All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all
government, of right, originates from the people, is founded upon their will
only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole." We have in the
past taken these legal legacies seriously.
We will be fine tuning our nation for many years still to come.
Nearly every American can tell you how things could be done better. But, it must
have been disappointing to Osama bin Laden and those of like mind, that we didn’t
break out into devastating civil war after last year’s bitterly contested
presidential election. There was anger, maybe even outrage, but no violence
occurred and Americans went on with their lives.
This would have been a very different scenario in many other
countries. But, willingly governed by law, the American people accepted the
results once a long and scrutinized recount was over. We were willing to see our
nation and its processes as the not-yet-perfect union and we kept our sense of
humor and our dignity.
There is nothing humorous about Sept. 11, and, after the shock
of a loss wears off, those in grief often feel deep, sometimes irrational, anger
and bitterness. But, we, as a country and as individuals, need the resilient
spirit we have shown before and must continue to honor the respect and tolerance
for difference that was demanded by the colonists.
Americans are famous for wrangling over issues, whether it takes
place in a capitol or on the street corner. While that divisiveness can detract
from our effectiveness, the debate process generally yields wiser decisions than
if it was stifled. Law passed by the majority can be a slow, painful process,
but when done in a deliberate way, it is not mob rule or rule by an evil few.
While Americans want to and need to debate where we go from
here, whether it’s about military action, economic bailouts, or invasive
governmental action affecting civil liberties, we need to remember the challenge
that our democratic process requires of us. Hear out your neighbor, your
legislator. Don’t let "opinion rage" close your ears before you hear
something you might not like, but may need to consider. Keep the common good in
This is the American way. We need to guard against letting
anyone, most of all ourselves, take that away from us.
We have learned to live side by side, atheists monitoring
evangelicals, southerners marrying northerners, conservatives arguing with
liberals, and the rich sitting next to those with much less. Here, in the
grocery store aisles, you can hear conversations in English, Spanish or Navajo,
yet we have managed to make life work. Diversity, in people’s backgrounds or
opinions, is not a comfortable or easy thing to accept or grow with. But therein
lies the strength of America.
Because of the intense feelings of fear, deep sadness and anger
stirred within us by the events of Sept. 11, our challenge is to stand as a
house united, while allowing dissenting voices to be heard and respected. May we
have the strength to meet the challenge and continue that noble, democratic
tradition as the rest of the world watches us.
Ellen Roberts is a Durango lawyer and past president of the
Southwest Colorado Bar Association. Reach her at email@example.com