From the editor: ​​This is not the America my father fought for.

As Independence Day approaches, I feel compelled to reflect on the state of our nation.

This is a personal reflection, one that each citizen should undertake.

After all, the Declaration of Independence describes our government as deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. We live in the world’s first democratic republic founded on that principle.

It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. We, the people, are responsible for our government.

When my father came home from serving in the South Pacific during World War II, he married the woman he had known and loved since childhood. Using the GI Bill, he was the first in his family to graduate from college.

My sisters and I were raised in a time and place where the United States of America felt like the center of the world. We saw our country as a beacon of hope. We lived in a neighborhood where most of the mothers stayed home to tend to their children while the fathers went off to work each day.

My father was a journalist so our dinner table conversations — which could last late into the night as the candles sputtered in the center of the table — were filled with the news of the day and we were encouraged to state our views.

The Fourth of July was a time of celebration. My mother would “ooh” and “ah” at the fireworks.

I was given an American flag as a gift for my 10th birthday and was proud to display it from the center of our porch. I sang patriotic songs with gusto.

When I left home for Wellesley College, I did so with a sense I wanted to make a difference in the world. I protested against the war in Vietnam. I marched to integrate schools in Boston. I went door to door to campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment.

My first year at college, I went with a friend to help and support her as she had a back-alley abortion. She was scared, and so was I. When, in my sophomore year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that our Constitution protected a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose an abortion, I was relieved.

While the Declaration of Independence — the document that we celebrate on the Fourth of July — declares that all men are created equal, I knew it took the courage of many through years of struggle, and even a civil war to, bit by bit, grant equal rights to African Americans, brought here in chains; to Native Americans, oppressed by European settlers; to poor white men, many of them immigrants looking for a better life — and finally to women.

I felt then — in a cataclysmic time when protests against an untenable war and calls for civil rights merged with government hearings on a corrupt administration — that I stood on the cusp of a brave new world. Out of this upheaval would come a better, stronger United States of America.

But now, in an equally cataclysmic time — with a world pandemic, a reawakening on systemic racism, the recurring disasters caused by human-induced ever-worsening climate change, and government hearings making clear our former president tried to subvert the peaceful transfer of power, a cornerstone of democracy — I feel the door to a good future has slammed shut.

I have a poster on my wall from the era in which I had campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment. It has an etching of a women’s prison — the women in long dark dresses sit in rows, behind bars, sewing — and it says: Stone walls do not a prison make/ Nor iron bars a jail;/ But till the ERA is won/ We’re only out on bail.

The first equal rights amendment was introduced to Congress in 1923. The one I campaigned for was reintroduced in 1971 and passed that year by the House of Representatives. It was passed the next year by the Senate and then needed ratification by three-quarters of the states.

Despite an attempt at extending the deadline, not enough states would back this simple sentiment:

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

How can women be assured of the “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” promised by the Declaration of Independence if our constitution cannot guarantee equal rights?

As we wrote on this page in May, after the United States Supreme Court’s decision, now issued, on overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked, the originalist justices are missing a central, essential point: Democracy evolves.

Are we, for example, going to turn back women’s right to vote because women weren’t explicitly named in the Constitution? Our governing document was framed by white, land-owning males. Are we going to revert to allowing only them the privileges of life, liberty, and property?

Will we turn back racial desegregation? Will we turn back gender equality? Will we turn back same-sex marriage? All of these, just like Roe v. Wade, centered on the high court’s interpretation of our Fourteenth Amendment.

“The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion,” Justice Samuel Alito concludes in the majority opinion. In overturning Roe v. Wade, he writes, “We … return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”

With the high court returning to the states the decision on abortion, we are profoundly troubled contemplating what other turn-backs may follow. Will we soon have states where gay marriage is criminal? Where interracial marriage is criminal? Where use of contraceptives is criminal? Where transgender people have to pretend, for fear of prosecution, to be the gender they were assigned at birth?

All citizens of the United States, not just those living in certain states, must be ensured the liberty guaranteed by our Fourteenth Amendment.

My cancer-filled uterus was removed years ago. I am fortunate to have never been raped, to not have had a medical condition that would have endangered my life or my fetus’s, and to have had the means to support the children I conceived. Although I never had need of an abortion, I don’t want my daughters or granddaughter — or any other female — to not have domain over her own body.

On this Fourth of July, I will fly my American flag as I always do. But I will not feel secure, as I had in my childhood, that I live in a just nation.

I will not feel hopeful, as I did as a young woman, that I live in a nation that is moving in the right direction, to be inclusive and to work toward the “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” promised for all by the Declaration of Independence.

I will fly my flag because I don’t want to give up on those ideals — even if now, as a woman, I am suffering from being excluded. The Declaration of Independence itself acknowledges “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

A bloody war was fought to form the United States of America. My grandfather in World War I and my father in World War II fought for that democracy.

I will not give up on it but continue in my own fight to make it better.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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