‘When I first enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army, I wondered why we took an oath not to the president, our commander in chief, not to our nation, but to the Constitution. We held our right hands up and repeat after the company officer: “I, Arti Walker-Peddakotla, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…So help me God.”
We swear that we will obey the orders of the president, and officers appointed over us, of course, but our first oath is to support and defend the Constitution. It’s an oath I’ve never forgotten, and one that anyone who takes it never forgets. It’s an oath that most military veterans I know still work to uphold even after taking the uniform off for the final time. And we do it because the freedoms written by our founding fathers are only guaranteed to us if we actively fight to protect, defend, and uphold them every single day, working to form the “more perfect union” emphasized in the preamble.
And in today’s America, that fight must be upheld more strongly than ever. Under the current administration, mothers at our borders are being separated from their babies, refugee and immigrant visas are frozen by policies like the Muslim Ban, society is rife with hate crimes by white supremacists, and black and brown lives are disproportionately being jailed and gunned down, all hand in hand with the bigoted rhetoric of our current leadership. With every single attack on the freedom of the people, the Constitution is reduced to nothing more than ever-fading words on a piece of tattered parchment.
As we celebrate our Constitution today, I ask my fellow citizens which version of America they will choose. Will you honour the vision of America that soldiers like me have fought to defend, or will you keep supporting an America that is eroding away essential freedoms and basic human rights?
Despite our Constitution’s commitment to religious freedom, the Supreme Court upheld the Muslim Ban in June––a policy that has already wreaked havoc on the international community and on our American Muslim communities as well. The ban has separated families, derailed lives, and communicated to Americans and those living abroad that religious freedom is no longer a core American value. This horrific policy is clearly unconstitutional, and not representative of the country I joined the military to defend. I know I can say the same for so many others alongside whom I served.
Our Constitutional values also paint the U.S. as a place of refuge, where anyone has the opportunity to succeed. But refugee intake has slowed to a trickle: Trump lowered the fiscal 2018 refugee cap to a historically low 45,000, but only 20,000 refugees have actually been resettled. The White House is currently discussing lowering the cap to 25,000 in 2019––a policy that sharply contradicts the bipartisan support for refugee resettlement.
Meanwhile, the nonviolent peaceful protests of the Black Lives Matter movement, attacked at every step by the current administration, give life to the words and intention of the Constitution’s preamble: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility.” For so many Americans, issues affecting black and brown lives have become normalized and can feel distant––affecting other lives, other communities, or members of other faiths. But we must remember our country’s core freedoms, the same ones enshrined in our most prized document, and stand together for each other. It is when we stand up for each other that I see the America I was proud to serve.
So on this Constitution Day, let us work together to align our policies and our actions with the image of America many of us hold dear: a country that guarantees dignity, fairness, and respect to all, no matter where someone was born, or their race, religion, or skin color. For this generation and the ones after us, we must continue to fight, every day, to fully realize our American dream––and nurture the freedoms our Constitution asks each and every one of us to protect.’
Arti Walker-Peddakotla is a U.S. Army veteran and a leader in Veterans for American Ideals.The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.