Personally, I cannot think of any writer who captures the essence of what it means to be an American quite like Walt Whitman. Since the United States is going though a turbulent period, I felt it appropriate to read Leaves of Grass in its entirety, something I had never done before. About halfway through the book, I came upon a very short poem that got right to the heart of what is wrong with this country right now.
On Equality–as if it harm’d me, giving others the same chances and rights as myself–as if it were not indispensable to my own rights that others possess the same.
(from Leaves of Grass)
The first thing I thought about as I read this was the debate regarding marriage equality. The fact that people are trying to get a constitutional amendment passed that denies certain Americans the same rights as others is against the basic principles that this country was founded upon–freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage equality is not a threat to heterosexual marriage. On the contrary, it is indispensable to the rights of all Americans that people are able to choose who they wish to spend their lives with.
Next, let’s consider healthcare. Universal healthcare is not socialism, it’s equality. How can we seek to deny or restrict healthcare, a basic human right, to our fellow citizens? The thought is appalling! No one should be denied healthcare because they can’t afford insurance or because they have a preexisting condition. In addition, it is wrong that we should allow people to lose everything they have worked for their entire lives because they got sick.
Finally, this one-line poem addresses many other issues: women’s rights, civil rights, education, immigration, social services. The list could go on. But the fact is that our rights and our freedoms are based upon equality, and this equality must not only be defended, it must be nurtured and allowed to grow. As Walt Whitman knew, there is nothing more American than equality.