Tuesday, August 31, 2010

All It Took Was the Pledge

I spent Saturday with a group of friends - about three or four hundred thousand of them.

Together, shoulder-to-shoulder, we gathered for a few hours on the National Mall in our nation's capitol. We were there to hear well-known and charismatic people speak about restoring honor and hope to our nation. I expected to be inspired, and I was, but I found that I was moved not as much by those who spoke as I was by those who didn't.

There was a kind of power in that crowd; a passion for freedom that was palpable and electric. Husbands and wives, parents and children, young and old talked quietly amongst themselves as we moved towards the Lincoln Memorial; crowding every trail and pathway in a swath a half-mile wide, resting on benches or a shady patch of ground when the heat became too oppressive.

I walked silently among them, alone in a crowd, absorbing the energy that crackled in the air around me. And as I walked, I was transported; I was no longer on the mall, no longer in Washington, D.C., no longer on the East Coast - I was in America.

You may summer in Maine or winter in Florida or Arizona. You may cruise to Alaska or take the kids to Disneyland. You may gamble in Las Vegas, party in New Orleans, explore the Grand Canyon, hike the Appalachian Trail, honeymoon in Hawaii or swim in the Gulf of Mexico. But to really experience America, you have to experience her people.

This is what I have learned about my country in the past year: our true beauty and greatness lies not in purple mountains and fruited plains - but in our people. Good, hard-working, charitable and uncomplicated people - who believe profoundly, who know, that the content of a man's character means everything and that the color of his skin means nothing. Because we believe in the sanctity of the individual, and because we measure a man by what's in his brain and in his heart, we're not the ones who need to be lectured to about civil rights.

We know that being American is a state of mind. We look through clear glass at a clear reality; others hold a prism before their eyes and see only separate bands of colors. I pity them.

On Saturday in Washington D.C., we the people, we Americans, stood up - taller than any monument, prouder than any statue, and more durable than the tall trees that surrounded us.

We crossed 14th Street and circled around the Washington Monument, within earshot now of the massive speaker systems, and we trampled the hot grass as we migrated towards the National World War II Memorial. Beyond that was the Reflecting Pool, flanked by monuments to two excruciating wars - Korea and Viet Nam. My goal was to get close enough to have a good view of the Lincoln Memorial and the stage set before it.

I never got that far. I didn't need to. In the middle of a field, with Washington's white marble obelisk now a hundred yards behind us, everyone stopped. Those on the ground stood up. Hats were removed, veterans snapped to attention, right hands covered pounding hearts - we were halted by the words that boomed from the speakers: "I pledge allegiance..."

Now hundreds of thousands of voices spoke in unison: "...to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

With tears streaming down my cheeks I realized that I didn't need to hear from Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin; all I needed to hear that day I heard in those few moments. All I needed to learn that day I was taught not by celebrities or politicians, but by those who were just like me - ordinary people living ordinary lives in extraordinary times.

I knew then that OUR voices, the voices of free and independent Americans rising up by the millions, would be the only voices that mattered in this struggle, and that our unwavering commitment victory in November would be the only true way to reclaim the honor and greatness that is America's destiny.

Frank Santarpia
Staten Island, NY