Materials that exemplify Community

We are responsible for each other as well as for ourselves and recognize that the strength of our nation springs from the unity of our diverse people. We are all in it together as Americans and human beings, not competitors or independent agents.

A strong and cohesive sense of community is essential to expanding opportunity for all.  When we care about the progress of all members of our society, opportunity is no longer just about personal success but also about our success as a people. This ideal is embodied in the motto E Pluribus Unum—“from many, one”—that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson proposed for the first Great Seal of the United States in 1776.  It symbolizes both the American resolve to form one nation from a collection of states, and our determination to forge one unified country from people of different backgrounds and beliefs.  Our enduring national commitment to seeking unity while respecting diversity is crucial to our progress as a nation.

The interdependence of community and opportunity is also expressed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.”  It is only through our relationships with other members of society that we can achieve our own aspirations and protect our own rights.  This is the notion of mutuality or “the interrelatedness of all communities and states” described by Martin Luther King, Jr.; the idea that “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” and that ”injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Indeed, it is a central teaching of virtually all of the world’s major religions, expressed most familiarly in Western culture as “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The value of community goes beyond the notion of assimilation—which usually means expecting newcomers and others with differing cultures to adapt to the dominant culture and give up their own.  Instead, it embraces mutual respect, diversity, and integration, which mean learning from each other’s experiences and beliefs to build a common and evolving national character.  As people who came here from other lands—some as immigrants, some in chains, and some as the first indigenous settlers of untamed wilderness—our national commitment to welcome new generations is a personal, as well as political, expression of community.

We all benefit in different ways from being Americans, and we all must contribute our fair share to the larger society as well as to our own pursuit of happiness.  That sometimes means that those of us who have benefited most from being part of the American venture must give back the most, sharing our national prosperity with those who have benefited the least.  It means willingly sharing the risks, burdens and advantages of making America work.  It also means remembering that our national embrace of human rights and fundamental freedoms is based not on hostility toward government but on hostility toward the excesses of government.  And that there are certain things—from public transportation to national defense, from protecting human rights to providing healthcare for all—that we simply cannot do on our own, whether as individuals or as individual cities, states, or corporations.

We fought and won a bloody civil war to preserve the unity of our nation and to forge a new respect for the diversity within it.  We passed the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution to make plain that we belong to one nation, indivisible, and share the same rights, privileges and immunities.  Our greatest progress in expanding opportunity has come when we have united as a nation to address problems like economic depression, unconscionable labor practices, and bigotry with national solutions like social security, workplace protections and human rights policies.  Those lessons must inform our future efforts to pursue the American Dream for all.

Finally, community is about the connections, rights and responsibilities that we have as citizens of the world as well as members of its most powerful nation.  Those ties obligate us to search for solutions that move us forward together rather than pitting us against each other.  If, as the Universal Declaration states, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” it is incumbent upon us always to seek common ground.