Dina Leygerman
What My Kids Should Know About The Resistance On The 4th Of July

by Dina Leygerman

In 2002 I attended an Independence Day celebration that ingrained itself in my memory and heart. The celebration, hosted by the local city government, incited a sense of patriotism I hadn't previously felt. The majestic fireworks, the emotional music, and the raw American culture were at their most powerful. I finally understood and felt the freedom and liberty I have been taught about as a young immigrant cautiously assimilating. Since then, my patriotism thrived, which is why there are certain things I want my kids to learn about resistance on the 4th of July. I want my kids to know that patriotism is fighting for the good of our country and its citizens and, in the end, patriotism comes in many forms. I want my children to know and understand the importance of The Declaration of Independence and how difficult the journey for our independence was.

In 2003, I finally became a naturalized citizen of the United States. I had recently joined Army ROTC in college and had to attend my naturalization ceremony in my ACU uniform, since it was the middle of a school day. I proudly walked into the courthouse in my uniform, took the Oath of Allegiance during the ceremony, was handed my naturalization certificate, and was welcomed to the United States (even though I had lived here as a permanent resident since 1994). You guys, becoming a citizen of the United States is actually pretty amazing, and I am incredibly proud to be an American citizen.

The citizenship granted me the right to do one very important thing that permanent residency did not allow: the right to vote. I couldn't wait to be able to vote, to make my voice heard, to have an impact on my local, state, and national communities. I went to anti-Iraq war rallies held on my college campus, I joined several political groups, and I went to a massive John Kerry rally, because at that time I wanted "anyone but Bush." Then I finally voted in the 2004 election for the first time. Pushing that button and wearing that "I Voted" sticker was one of my proudest moments as an American citizen.

I then voted for President Obama and cried when he was elected. I was pregnant with my first child and I was so happy she would be born into a world where we finally elected someone other than an old white man. I wrote to my unborn daughter on that day, as follows:

"I can't help but to think of you. I was thinking about you the entire election. Ever since I became pregnant with you, I was worried about bringing you into a world where money is more than tight and jobs are less than stable. And today I know I will be bringing you into the world of hope and change. I hope you will grow up in a world that is a lot less racist and a lot more open-minded."

Oh, how naive I was. I was unknowingly living with white and middle-class privilege. I did not know the underlying issues so many Americans continued to face, despite Obama being our president for eight years, and it is my fault. Well, I'm officially more woke than I have ever been before (better late than never, I guess), and on this 4th of July I want my kids to know about patriotism and resistance because I don't want them to be ever taken by shock like so many of us recently were.

Patriotism Isn't One Size Fits All

American patriotism emphasizes American values and not blind commitment to the nation. Patriotism is not some automatic trust in the leaders of this country. As Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, once wrote:

"Call it freedom. Call it liberty. Call it whatever you want, but it’s the bedrock on which this nation was founded and from which we stray at our peril. It’s what has defined us as Americans. It’s what almost everyone who has ever lived on this planet has yearned for. It makes life worth living, which means it’s worth fighting and dying for."

In those words, Reed defined patriotism. I want my kids to know its patriotic duty to resist anything that takes away our freedom and liberty and anyone who imposes upon our definition of patriotism.

Know Your Rights & History

My children were born into the rights they have today. They have no idea what human rights even are, or how long people have fought for equality and freedom. They just exist in today's world without a care. I want my children to know history and The Bill of Rights. I will make sure they know the rights of each citizen in this country. I want my children to understand that gender, ethnicity, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation should never limit someone's basic human rights and I want them to understand that no right is guaranteed and every right can be taken away with a stroke of a pen. They need to be vigilant and they need to pay attention.

Fight For What You Believe In

Yes, there is a lot to do, and even in 2017 many of our rights are threatened. Our climate is changing, our bodies are constantly up for debate, and our health care is being used as a political pawn. There is so much going on and it's tough to concentrate, but I'm telling my kids to not feel guilty about standing up for what is important to us and those around us. We cannot fight for it all at once, so it's OK for us to focus on a few issues we know enough about to make our voice heard and to jump in whenever we are needed elsewhere.

Your Voice Does Matter

I will show up to the Marches and I will call my Senators. I will do it all in the presence of my children because I want them to know their voices matter.

Recently, a friend said, "I disliked a lot of what Obama did, but I didn't throw a tantrum and go march in the streets. What do you think you're accomplishing?"

I responded, saying "Well, maybe you should have. If you truly thought whatever President Obama was doing was impeding on your rights as a citizen of the United States, and if you honestly believed he was 'ruining this country,' then maybe you should have done something. Maybe if you didn't just sit on your behind and grumbled to yourself, you could have created change. But you didn't. You just complained to anyone who would listen. And, what did you accomplish?"

My friend agreed.

It's always better to speak up for something you believe in, even if you think your voice is overshadowed by someone else's, than to sit quietly and let things just happen to you.

Know The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence specifically states that all men are created equal and deserve the same rights in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Additionally, the Founding Fathers wrote that "whenever an Form of Government becomes destructive, it is the Right of The People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government." The Founding Fathers believed that the government should serve its people and yet here we are, living in a government that serves only itself and its political agenda.

I came from a country where people were not allowed to question their elected officials. The citizens in the Soviet Union were expected to blindly follow what the government said and did. My family fled that kind of regime to come to a country where we are free to criticize our leaders. So, I want my children to know their patriotism lies in their freedom. I want them to understand if the government isn't working for its people, the people must resist and replace.

Don't Be Discouraged & Don't Give Up

While it all may seem bleak, the citizens of the United States have already accomplished a significant number of things. The Women's March inspired the country and laid the groundwork for future action. The people have blocked two unconstitutional travel bans, have successfully opposed the first health care proposal, and have pushed for a special investigation into the Russian infiltration into the presidential election. The town halls are flooded with constituents, there have been numerous boycotts of companies that are somehow attached to the President, not to mention numerous marches and protests: March for Science, March for Truth, A Day Without Women, and A Day Without Immigrants.

In other words, the resistance is not stopping any time soon. We continue to fight for women's rights, for black lives, for marriage equality, for our climate, and for health care for all. We continue to stand up against racism, against bigotry, and against homophobia. It may seem like a lot, but it's all important, so it's even more crucial to never give up.

Recognize Your Privilege & Stand Up For Those Who Are Most Vulnerable

Understand not everyone in our society has a voice that can be heard. Sure, all voices matter, but unfortunately not all voices hold the same power. So, it is important for the people in our society to not resist the idea of their privilege and, instead, come to terms with it and then use it for good.

We are a white, middle-class family. My husband is a while male, and our kids go to one of the best school districts in the country. In our society, we are privileged and there is no point of denying it. Those who deny their privilege are simply misguided. We understand how privileged we are and we also understand that it is our responsibility to use that privilege for good. We understand we must stand and advocate for those who may not have as much power as our ethnicity and gender grant us.

Hold Elected Officials Accountable

Finally, and most importantly, I want my children to know that they have the power and the obligation to hold our elected officials accountable. We elect people into office because we want our voices to be heard. Those people are responsible to us. They must serve the public. Our elected officials works for us and the moment they stop is the moment we must resist.

Our independence from Britain was the result of boycotts, rebellion, resistance, and an actual revolution. It was not a simple path. When Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that argued for American independence, the Continental Congress finally allowed the states to form their own governments and to draft a declaration. Our independence came from a resistance and that is something I want my children to know and for everyone else to understand.