The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Finding True Patriotism on Independence Day

To most people, the Fourth of July means fireworks, barbecues, and American flags. It’s a fun way to celebrate our nation’s birth, but the holiday should mean more than that. It is a time to reflect on the country’s values and beliefs and what they mean in the context of modern society. The country has made a lot of progress since its creation, but it still has a long way to go. The recent groundswell of protests against centuries of police brutality and systemic racism highlight not only how much change has yet to be made but also the patriotism of American society. To be truly patriotic is not just to celebrate our country’s history, but to commit to seeking a better path forward. The first step to that is understanding not only the flaws that have emerged recently but also those which are embedded in the country’s DNA.

The unfortunate reality of the United States is that it owes its very existence to the oppression and labor of Indigenous peoples and enslaved Black people. The Founding Fathers had the wealth and power to declare independence for the rest of the colonists because they relied on the work of enslaved Black people. The colonies gained what meager international status they had because of the mass exportation of goods produced through slave labor. At its very core, the American cause was to control land that had been stolen from Indigenous people. When the United States finally won independence from England, freedom was limited to the few most privileged people—excluding women, Black people, Indigenous people, and anyone who did not own landwhile the new government established and maintained systems of oppression.

All of this is not to say that the United States is not worth celebrating or even that the Founding Fathers did not have any good ideas. We’ve just forgotten the ideas and principles that make the country strong and not taken care to make sure that they are applied equitably. The ingenuity of the Founding Fathers and The Constitution lay not in the actual system they established—that was not entirely a new idea—but in the self-awareness reflected through the amendment process, the humility with which they put forth their ideas, and the knowledge that it was impossible to create a system completely free of mistakes and problems. The beauty of their work was that it inspired people to take a chance and build off of the best option they had.

The American spirit is exemplified in activists who recognize the country’s flaws and challenge it to do better rather than blindly singing its praise. This Fourth of July, take a moment to learn more about the history of the United States that was not covered in school, and follow the example of the activists who have allowed the country to progress. You can start by finding out what Indigenous land you live on here, learning about racism with any of these books, or learning about how the US contributes to mass atrocities across the world through the STAND blog. Whatever interests you, think about a way that the US can do better in that area, and then start learning and working. In the midst of a national reckoning with our racism and our dark history, do not be left behind.

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years.


Activism is Hard Work, but Worth It: My State Advocacy Lead Experience

At the end of eighth grade, someone reached out to me and told me that they worked with an organization called STAND. She told me that they needed people to write op-eds against the Trump Administration’s proposed cuts to the International Affairs budget. I liked to write, and it sounded like an interesting topic, so I agreed. I had no idea that this would be the beginning of years of involvement with an amazing organization, but as I researched, I became more and more interested in STAND’s cause. When I entered high school, I joined STAND as a member of the Communications Task Force (which no longer exists) and wrote about various aspects of STAND’s cause for two years. This past year, I became a State Advocacy Lead.

State Advocacy Leads help mobilize students in their state to participate in STAND’s national campaigns by writing op-eds and blog posts, holding in-person events, directly lobbying state representatives, and working with Action Committees. This experience has been really exciting for me because I have been able to work with people around the country to bring STAND’s goals to everybody. I have loved learning about our advocacy and actually being able to make an impact on the issues I care about. Being a State Advocacy Lead is really empowering.  One thing that was especially cool was being able to publish an op-ed on the GRACE Act, which would increase the maximum amount of refugees the country admits annually. I was looking forward to holding an event on the Global Fragility Act, which STAND also worked to pass, before quarantine started. Even though I wasn’t actually able to host the event, it was really amazing to see how the organization could impact policy and how I could help advance that.

I would have loved to be able to host more events, but it is hard to do that on a low budget. It takes a lot of time and resources to be able to put together an event. If every State Advocacy Lead was given $500-$1,000, I would use this to have more events to mobilize people to participate in grassroots advocacy campaigns. Even finding locations to have events can be expensive, but it is very helpful to gather in person to get people to commit to action. In addition, events can be effective tools to raise awareness about STAND’s issues, especially if they can include experts. Even being at an event where they learn about a conflict area can be the impetus for action from students.  Because STAND is truly a student-led grassroots movement, it is crucial that we involve as many students as possible.

That includes anyone who is reading this. Activism is hard work. Most of the time is spent trying to convince people of things they either don’t want to believe or asking them to do things they don’t want to spend time doing, but it’s worth it to make even a small change. It is worth it to reach out to a hundred students if even a couple people get involved. I’m grateful that someone asked me to get involved in STAND. Throughout my three years with the organization, I have worked with amazing people to help save lives and prevent atrocities around the world. This experience has shown me how much power I can have as a student and what we can do collectively to make a positive impact on the world.  If you want to be a bigger part of this and are ready to put in time to share STAND’s goals with the students and leaders in your state, please apply to be a State Advocacy Lead.  We need as many dedicated, well-intentioned students as possible to work towards a more peaceful world.

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years.