Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

The word evokes a memory of the plaintive cry in a sleepy child’s voice asking, “Are we there yet?” shortly after setting out on a cross-country trip to visit Grandma. And the usual answer is either “Not yet, honey” or “Go back to sleep!”

More than two centuries ago our Founding Fathers quarried in their imaginations a huge block of marble and began carving. Believing that all are created equal and have “certain inalienable rights,” they envisioned a land, a people and a government committed to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Somewhere within that stone was the dream of “a more perfect union.”

Our recent history proves we are still not there, even though today we are, in many ways, closer than ever to fulfilling our founders’ vision. The current economic crisis and the inability of our elected officials to come together to work for the “common good” have exposed a multi-layered, variegated stone requiring both artistry and patience if the democracy being shaped by all of us is to come to pass.

Democracy demands both freedom and responsibility: freedom to be and responsibility to become. What brighter light can be on the mountaintop than freedom? And what greater challenge belongs to every one of us than that of becoming better than we are?

Democracy without voice is like air without oxygen. And democracy without many voices is a lie. Voices are the chisels that shape the dream. That is why the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement are important in their moments. That is why the voices of the poor are just as important, deserving to be heard, as those of the rich – of every ordinary citizen as well as every politician.

Democracy should be all about self-reliance but should also be all about caring for those who are unable to be so. Democracy without heart and open mind is also a lie. Both are necessary to aid and encourage while holding accountable any and all who abuse the system and thus defile the dream.

Power in a democracy demands to be shared, if not fairly, certainly reasonably. The feeling of fair is difficult to come by in a society as complex as ours. What is reasonable should be more attainable, especially by our governments – village, city, state and federal. But reason needs a hearing. When minds are fixed and closed, ears tend to disappear and government without ears can be abusive.

We are too young, as nations go, to be anything but a work in progress. What is emerging from the dreams of our forefathers should inspire every citizen to do his or her part. What we do with the legacy of the dream is as much about future generations as it is about ourselves. We are not there yet; the dream, however, is still taking shape.