When this country was founded, a document was drafted to capture the essence of the newborn nation. In the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, it was stated that we the people came together “in Order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

This is a dark time for America. For the past few months, our country has been forced to confront its own culture of racism and violence. It has been a hard and emotional time, with protests across the nation in response to more needless death. On Dec. 9, the national identity crisis intensified as our government released previously classified documents detailing the CIA’s use of torture on terrorism suspects and our Congress passed a bill that would increase the limit on individual political donations tenfold.

In a suburb of St. Louis, Michael Brown was shot at least six times during a confrontation with police officer Darren Wilson. The exact circumstances of Michael Brown’s death remain heavily disputed, and we are unlikely to ever know exactly what occurred. On Staten Island, Eric Garner was choked to death after being confronted on suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes. Officer Daniel Pantaleo took it upon himself to act as the judge, jury, and executioner for a crime that typically carries a fine of $600 per carton.

The shocking similarities between these two cases include the races of the victims and the officers, as well as the justice system’s failure to take them to trial. What happened to Justice?

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the American Central Intelligence Agency tortured suspected terrorists, without trial, at various black sites around the world. While the general public of the country remained oblivious, their tax dollars were spent on waterboarding, prisons that could be more accurately described as dungeons, interrogations that lasted for days at a time, forced rectal feeding, and worse. What happened to Tranquility?

The 2015 federal budget that was passed by Congress included an increase of the limit on individual campaign donations from $32,400 per year to $324,000. In a time of increasing inequality in America, this change will simply exacerbate the problem, putting more power in the hands of the wealthy. With this deal, the richest in America will be able to donate over six times the 2013 U.S. real median household income of $51,939.

Over the past decades, from 1985 to 2013, the real GDP per capita of the U.S. has increased from $18,269 to $53,142, but the vast majority of Americans have not benefitted. While the economy has grown substantially, the median income of American households has increased only marginally over this time, from $47,079 in 1985. Inequality is a detriment to all areas of life in America, with links being found to increased rates of health problems, decreased economic growth, and a range of social issues including crime, poverty and poor education.  What happened to general Welfare?

Following the drafting of the Constitution came the Bill of Rights, a collection of ten amendments that ensured the rights of people in America, including our rights to free speech and a fair trial. Michael Brown did not get a fair trial. Eric Garner did not get a fair trial. The prisoners at Guantanamo and other U.S. prisons around the world did not get a fair trial. Protesters across the nation, often peacefully exercising their right to free speech, have been met with police brutality and violence for speaking out against issues varying from income inequality to institutionalized racism. What happened to our Blessings of Liberty? What happened to our perfect union?

While it is easy to succumb to these questions of despair, it is essential that we shift our focus to the productive question: Where do we go from here? The downfall of democracy is the result of ignorance, and we as a people have become willfully ignorant. Now, more than ever, staying informed requires more time, energy, and thought. We can no longer take the words of politicians, mass media, and other people in power at face value.

We must question and actively seek out answers. An informed and motivated populace cannot be suppressed by money and power, but an ignorant and apathetic populace can.

The government of the people, by the people, for the people, perished from the Earth long ago, but we can still fight for a rebirth of freedom, equality, and democracy.

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