Commentary: In the shadow of Independence Day

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Soccer fans enjoy the fireworks after watching soccer action between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium, Wednesday, July 4, 2018.

I feel helpless sometimes; voiceless, without a plan to stand up for our brothers and sisters whose basic human rights are disregarded or abused.

Galway Kinnell said, “Think of the wren and how little flesh is needed to make a song.” How is it that such a tiny bird can sing so beautifully? How can you also sing out with the voice you have, loud or soft? How can I? Let’s figure it out. Many voices make a chorus.

Have you tried to make a difference before and didn’t make a splash? Sometimes we’re simply overwhelmed just living our own challenging lives. In the shadow of Independence Day is there something you and I can do to show solidarity and stand up for the basic human rights our fellow human beings in anguish deserve? You don’t have to be a bigwig in your community, family or country, to raise up your voice wisely about your rights, the rights of others, or to sing the song of kindness and love.

It’s time to stop heinous crimes of supremacy, neglect and violence at our borders and in our communities. There should never, ever be another tragedy like that of Oscar Martinez, his little girl, Valeria, and their surviving family. All of us are left to live forever with the memory of father and daughter face down in the water in a border river. There should never, ever be another mass shooting or the omnipresent gun-related fear our students feel.

Just because we are each born in different cities and different countries of the world doesn’t mean God only sent His preferred ones to His favorite country (whatever country you may think that is). The right to liberty, to work, to love and be loved, to gain an education without discrimination, and without fear in school, is an inheritance we are all entitled to as a product of birth, not privilege.

Consider how you can use your voice in a way that works for your life circumstances. Give it real thought. Large efforts or small, every voice matters. Poets, write more poems (like “Ink Has No Borders”). Musicians, write more operas (like “The Central Park Five,” by Anthony Davis and Richard Wesley). Women, men, teenagers talk among yourselves about basic human rights issues, write to congress, participate in, or organize a march. Put a poster on your front door. Preachers, keep preaching sermons about love and inclusivity. Kids, smile at someone who may be different than you.

Sometimes we are unable to give freely the love that each person inherently deserves because our own emotional baggage makes it difficult to love or be loved. We sometimes fail to love liberally because we fear rejection by peers who might mistake our voice for condoning what they personally don’t approve of. I might not approve of the rocky road ice cream you’re buying ahead of me at the market, because I have an overwhelming attachment to mint chocolate chip, yet I can still love you.

Let’s make a difference in our communities. Let’s become patriots of basic human rights, the rights of our neighbor and every person in every country, of our unquestionable right to the pursuit of happiness and love regardless of race, religion, gender, gender preference, or background, here and in every country. This includes the state of emergency for our fellow human beings in Yemen and the barbaric treatment of women in Papua New Guinea. Whatever you choose to do, please share you voice with #bornfreeandequal

When we watch fireworks for the 4th of July, pass around watermelon at our picnic, or stake our claim to a seat for a parade, maybe our freedom celebration will mean more if we think about how we can love more, and, in giving love broadly can help spread the liberation that comes with understanding and compassion. Perhaps we can notice our own implicit bias when we walk past someone, each aware that we’ve noticed the difference in our clothing, our skin color, our age, and check our bias at the door the next time.

We still have a long way to go. Because of this, I know when I bite into my triangle of freedom watermelon it’s going to taste just a tad bittersweet, as it should. I’ll also light a sparkler and sing out like the wren during the “Star Spangled Banner", because I’m hopeful we can band together and sing out in chorus: It’s not us and them. It’s we.

Gwen Soper

Gwendolyn Taylor Soper is a writer and musician who lives in Orem.

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