Do we want to be a nation where a full-time job enables you to meet your basic needs and live with dignity, or do we want to continue to allow millions of Americans to live in poverty despite their hard work?
How can we fix a criminal justice system that incarcerates more people than any other country in the world and forces us to pay to lock up thousands of people who in a different system could make valuable contributions to society?
Do we want to continue to burden young adults with student loan debt that prevents them from owning homes, starting families or making the purchases that help our economy grow? Or will we recognize that an educated and skilled populace bestows incalculable benefits on society as a whole, and that forcing young people to start their working lives with overwhelming levels of debt will slowly cripple our economy in the coming years?
What can we do to restore the dream of economic mobility that our nation was founded upon, a dream that has become increasingly illusory in recent years?
Will we ensure that no one should face economic ruin due to health problems beyond their control? This ideal may become reality in the next few years as we move towards universal coverage, but there is still much to be done.
Will we recognize that gay, lesbian and transgendered people are our brothers, sisters and children who deserve the same respect and dignity afforded to anyone else? On the same note, can we finally become a society in which racism and bigotry are no longer tolerated?
Can the American people come to understand that sex education and universally-available contraception can reduce abortion rates, reduce unplanned pregnancies, and in the long run reduce poverty, crime and incarceration? Or will many states insist on rigid, unrealistic abstinence education and restricted birth control coverage that only increase all these negative outcomes?
There are many other problems to consider, and discussing even the basic alternatives for addressing any of these problems is far beyond the scope of this post. But what is absolutely critical is to realize that many millions of Americans do not even agree that these problems are problems. Many more are simply unaware of how these problems cause real harm to their fellow citizens. For culture to change, public opinion has to change, to the point where the majority will not accept the status quo. And while public opinion on many of these matters is changing, slowly, every day that we can speed up the process represents thousands of people who will not have to needlessly suffer.
Is there anything you can do to help change the minds of people around you who, through ignorance, apathy, or lack of exposure to these issues, contribute to the persistence of these problems in American society? One simple conversation that helps someone see these abstract issues as real human problems can change a mind.
This is a great nation, but it can become greater still.
Happy Independence Day.