Courage, according to Webster’s Dictionary is the “attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult or painful, instead of withdrawing from it; the quality of being fearless or brave; valor.”
We have just celebrated Independence Day. Every person dwelling in this nation should know that on July 4th, 1776, representatives from the then 13 English colonies in North America adopted a document stating that they would “dissolve the political bands” that joined them to their “British brethren.” After listing their reasons, the signers pledged to each other “our Lives, Our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”
This was no hollow sound bite or 140-character tweet. Hundreds of Patriot militia had already died or been wounded in battles with British soldiers in Massachusetts. Farmers and fishermen, merchants and bankers, tradesmen and sailors risked all that they had for the right to be represented in the government to which they were subject. The signers of the Declaration were no different; they knew that with the stroke of a pen, they had put their lives on the line. This is courage.
In the 19 months since the 2016 presidential election, we all have had reason to consider the courage it took to declare independence and then, after failed experimentation through the Articles of Confederation, to work together to form, and sustain, a union under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our republic was designed with checks and balances to guard against tyranny. Despite this, it has not always done the right thing for its own people or others. Thanks to courageous men and women of all means, identities, skin color and religion who have stepped forward throughout the past 242 years, it has self-corrected – many times. It can do so again.
“Things didn’t have to turn out as well as they did,” says historian David McCullough, who wakens now at night, worried (Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2018). “But things worked out – because individuals behaved in certain ways, with integrity and resilience. They figured out how to work with other people, and they tried to do the right thing.”
People of integrity are stepping forward now. Courageous individuals at the local, state and national levels have decided that rather than withdraw from dealing with things “dangerous, difficult or painful,” they will roll up their sleeves, get to work and do what is right. They are putting service to their neighbors – all their neighbors – first, confident that our system of government is indeed able to further prosperity, safeguard the planet, heal divisions, and ensure justice for all.
This is courage. It is inspiring – and necessary. Because the beacon of hope that is the United States didn’t become so onlybecause of the courage of a Roger Sherman or a Frederick Douglass or an Alice Paul or a Rosa Parks or a Todd Beamer or a Humayun Khan. It became a beacon of hope because all the rest of us stepped up, too.
Troy Ellen Dixon is Communications Director for the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which provides this column.