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    A House Divided

    Today, as in the 1970s, while many things divide Americans, there is much to celebrate in the United States, if we take the time to do so.

    Larry J. Martin

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    Larry with children Michael, Samuel, and Mary Kate Martin

    Photo: Larry with children Michael, Samuel, and Mary Kate Martin, July 4, 2007.

    I grew up during one of the more tumultuous times in the United States. The late 1960s and 1970s saw our nation torn and divided by the Vietnam War, political assassinations, the Watergate scandal, inflation, the energy crisis, and the fight for equal rights for a multitude of fellow citizens marginalized within our society. In this atmosphere, it would not be surprising to have grown up with a cynical and untrusting view of the world.

    But that’s not me. I am an optimist and believe there is an inherent good in society that, while we often stumble along the way, continuously drives us toward a more perfect union.

    Larry J. Martinorg lmartin wisbar Larry J. Martin is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    After more than a decade of social and political unrest, the U.S. needed to come together, to heal and to reestablish faith in itself. It was during this time that my first political views formed and the greatest year of my childhood occurred.

    1976 – America’s Bicentennial. A year-long celebration, it was marked in both big and small ways in every community and neighborhood across the country. In my town we painted fire hydrants in patriotic colors, dedicated new parks, held historical demonstrations, honored our civic past, and celebrated the contributions of both the immigrants and the native peoples who made our nation great. I volunteered in my first political campaigns and proudly shook the hand of the next President of the United States when he visited our town. 

    That year would culminate in one of the most exciting presidential elections of my lifetime. Two of the most decent and honorable people to ever occupy the White House would battle each other while never compromising their dignity or self-respect. Decades later, Jimmy Carter would give the eulogy at Gerald Ford’s funeral. Our bicentennial brought us together and reminded us of our shared values.

    Today, it is easy to be a pessimist. Amid the shouting, ugliness, and divisiveness, one can feel that we have lost our way. But I remain an optimist and deeply and fundamentally continue to believe in the dream and promise of America.

    Within it lies a common and vital thread, that we are all equal under the law.

    We must celebrate the contributions diversity brings to our society, but just as importantly, understand that in doing so, we also celebrate the commonality that makes us all Americans.

    As I do every year, I will get up this Independence Day, put out the flag, and hang some bunting from our porch for good measure. Then my family and I will walk over to our parish parking lot where hundreds of my neighbors and their kids will be gathered. With bikes, trikes, wagons, and scooters decorated in the festive colors of the day we will form our parade. Our rather motley crew, led by a neighborhood band, will march down to the park. There we will play games, eat brats, enjoy a cold beverage, reconnect with one another, and listen to summer tunes. But first we will all gather at the flag pole, and with the help of our local Boy Scout troop will raise the Stars and Stripes. Standing together, we will sing our nation’s anthem and pledge allegiance to our great country.

    As I scan the hillside, I will notice the increasing diversity of my community and that the fabric of our country remains strong. Within it lies a common and vital thread, that we are all equal under the law.

    E pluribus Unum – from many, one.