This week, the news was saturated with stories from the inauguration of President Barack Obama. With his election, the United States takes another significant step forward in what some call “the great American experiment.”

While the celebrations of this past Tuesday have come and gone, and movement starts toward debates on policy and the national challenges, it is appropriate to ponder a little while longer what we’ve accomplished beyond the partisan rancor.

In a little over 200 years, our republic has turned from one dominated by white male property owners to a nation that embraces the rights of all citizens to vote and, now, has put a citizen of African descent into its highest position of power.

As President Obama often stated on the campaign trail, his opportunity to seek this office, and hold the position of leader of the free world, would not have been possible if not for the blood, sweat and tears of the generations that came before him.

The Founding Fathers, when drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, created a framework for a free society based on the notion that all men were created equal. The balance of the three branches of government allowed pushes and pulls among the elected officials and the arbiters and protectors of those Constitutional rights through the courts.

Where else in history has a society been able to wrestle within its existing framework to find the right and just course?

There have been many ugly moments in this history. And it often takes a generation in one era to advance a step forward for the next.

To move from a nation in which slavery was accepted to one where all men are free.

To move from where only men could vote to one where all citizens are political co-equals.

A nation where one generation of new Americans can make a path for future generations of community leaders.

In this era of instant communication and gratification, some in our country may be frustrated by the lack of immediate change on many issues. An impressive character of America is that with persistence and commitment to our founding principles, opportunities await every citizen and change is possible.

During the Civil Rights movement, it was probably hard to envision a life beyond the fights in the streets, the arrests of those practicing civil disobedience, and the powerful speeches of leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. being met with militant resistance.

In the times of significant French Canadian immigration to the Lewiston-Auburn community, it was unlikely that those new residents could envision a life for their families beyond difficult work conditions and discrimination because of their language and culture.

And even today, with new immigrants relocating to this community from even further away, predominantly those originally from Somalia, the challenge of language barriers, astronomical unemployment and constant rumors and speculation about the public support provided to them likely makes living here uncomfortable, and the light at the end of the tunnel dim.

A day will come when the success of these new families, their children and the businesses they will start, will have us recalling in awe at how this community successfully changed, despite the challenges we faced.

This has been a week to remind us that we should always be proud to be Americans. It is clear there is something about living in this country, with its people and form of government, which opens doors that remain unfortunately closed in other parts of the world.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal and an Androscoggin County Commissioner. E-mail: [email protected]


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