One of my favorite memories as a youth, was at the skating rink. In fact, I was the
cool kid who had my 12th birthday party there! It never failed, at some point during the time you were at the skating rink, they would have everyone line up and do the “Hokey Pokey”. Sure enough, we’d all line up as if we were getting ready to do the “Boot, scootin’, boogey” line dance. Age didn’t matter. If you had on skates, you were in the mix.
Of course, the song goes… “You put your right arm in, you put your right arm out, you put your right arm in and you shake it all about. You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.” If you’re familiar with this classic song, you know that you eventually put almost every body part in and out and it is shaken all about.
The song has stuck with me over the years and never fails to bring a smile to my face—and even if no one can remember all the words, they get the refrain: “that’s what it’s all about…”
As I write, it is 19 years and a few days past the horrific 9/11 attacks on the United States. I remember being at college (in the middle of nowhere) and yet gripped by an overwhelming fear. Fear of the unknown—something that we were not accustomed to in the United States. I remember watching the reports interrupt the newscast about the first plane hitting. Surely, this was an accident,I thought. Minutes later, our worst fear was confirmed, it was no accident—we were under attack.
To this day, I am still visibly shaken when I visit the 9/11 Memorial in New York City
or at the Pentagon. But as terrible as 9/11 was for me—and images I will never forget, I remember 9/12 just as vividly. Overnight, we had become united. Political party affiliation meant little. Gender, race, or socioeconomic status wasn’t a divider of people. On 9/12 and the months to follow, we were all Red, White, and Blue—we were Americans. During that period of my life, I was transformed by that awe-inspiring time and was provided a glimpse of what it could be like. A glimpse of “what it’s all about.”
I’m not naïve enough to think that everything was perfect on 9/12/2001, and certainly not now. I do think we’ve gotten caught up too much in being right or having the last word that we’ve forgotten that our forefathers knew we weren’t perfect and that we were always “striving for that more perfect union.” It is true, we’ve come a long way—and we have a way to go to ensure there’s liberty and justice for all.
This week, we’ll celebrate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, which is observed each year on September 17 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, and “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.” Those individuals who spent the sweltering days of summer in conclave and discussion about how to best set the course for this nation, did not do so in vain, nor did they do so haphazardly. They understood then the very divisive issue of slavery. They understood then that the document they had toiled over would set precedent for generations to come—and that it must enshrine the rights guaranteed to each citizen. Think about it—since 1787, there have only been 27 amendments to the US Constitution. That’s not insignificant.
Have we arrived to the point of perfection? Again, I say no. In fact, some days, I feel we’ve wondered quite a ways off the farm. But we have this brilliant and masterful document, our Constitution, that has stood the test of time and remains a beacon of hope for those across the world. And it is in that Constitution that is reminds We, the People “what it’s all about.” And that is striving for that more perfect union where there is liberty and justice for all.
Dr. Randell E. Trammell is the founder and CEO of the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement, an organization that exists "to educate and equip students to become informed and active citizens."