September 11th: we call it the “National Day of Service and Remembrance.” Honestly, I’d rather not remember that soul-shattering day in 2001, except for the surreal sense of oneness and belonging — the connection, concern for others, grief for the state of the world — dare I say universal love? I do want to remember that. There were beautiful tributes at American embassies worldwide, thousands of flowers and flags and candles and cards. And of course we remember those first responders, many of whom are still paying the cost of their sacrifice. No wonder this date is dedicated to unity and charitable service.

The world loved America that day, warts and all. Even this old hippie drove around with an American flag tied to her car antennae for months afterward. Remembering the unity and big-hearted patriotism that surrounded us in the weeks after 9/11 makes me feel homesick, wondering how we could have fallen so far so fast. The seeds of division and nationalism that plague us today were already planted and well-rooted in 2001, but they were easy to ignore if you were a privileged white person such as myself. I was busy.

Now, though, there’s no denying it.

America is desperately ill, and the seeds of evil have grown into gnarled trees of corruption and greed and white nationalism. Our president and his cronies are intentionally feeding and watering those trees. Evil is flourishing right out in the open: we have a mentally unbalanced, strongman authoritarian seeking dictatorial power with the complete compliance of the once “Grand Old Party.” There may be violence if he loses, he warns, as he stokes the fires of anger and fear at his hate-fueled rallies.

I barely recognize America anymore. She never really was “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” but at least we all wanted her to be. Now the strongman tells elected officials of color to “go back where you came from.”

But here’s the thing: I still love America, even more than I did when I tied that flag to my antennae on September 12, 2001. Her founding ideals may have become a mockery, corporate money may have damaged democracy beyond repair, and greed-driven climate denial may spell the beginning of the end for our species. But that “liberty and justice for all” thing? That’s still worth pursuing and defending with all we’ve got. Good-hearted women and men have fought for those ideals for hundreds of years, some in uniform, some in courtrooms, some protesting in the streets, some being martyred. Their spirits live on.

So on this “Day of Remembrance and Service,” let’s remember what this country stands for. Let’s commit to speaking up when we see racism and injustice in our daily lives. Let’s commit to educating ourselves fully, to admitting and learning from our mistakes, to voting, and to teaching our children to vote. Let’s march in the streets to protect one another, and let’s get involved in the upcoming election.

“Don’t mourn, organize!”

Joe Hill, songwriter and union organizer executed by the state of Utah in 1815.

In Remembrance