Independence comes in many forms, but is often taken for granted in America — from freedom of speech to freedom to speak; from women’s rights to disability rights; from equal access to medical care to equal access to higher education, it all matters.  

This became even more perceptible last week when, as a guest of the Democratic National Committee, I was privileged to attend the second night of the opening debates for the 2020 Democratic Presidential primaries at the beautiful Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami, a 200-mile drive from my home. It was my 22nd birthday. My mom and I sat Stage Right. In the 8th row. In the middle of the tiny minority supporting self-help guru Marianne Williamson. Ten of twenty candidates paraded, cajoled, argued, and espoused their views in front of millions for the highly publicized NBC/Telemundo event. Having this unique perspective is obviously going to make a difference going into my second election as a Gen Zer. I have no front runner in my mind at the moment, but the Dems seem to be in better touch with the issues facing my generation: race, diversity, climate, the role of government in our affairs, and crucial to me, accessible, attainable health care. As a PWD (person with a disability) who relies on insurance, Medicaid, and SSI, I have to pay attention.

Witnessing living history is usually the route we take; we like “experiences” a lot. A presidential debate is something you don’t want to miss even though you may not agree with certain opinions. This night I listened and I watched, to see how America’s next potential President would respect the delivery of diverse opinions. Unfortunately, like most of my generation, I have noticed how social media and technology have stripped away the integrity of this right to voice our opinions and have turned it into a defensive mechanism rather than a civil sounding board. This was evident in the course of the debate when candidates were focused on defending themselves rather than having a “yes, and…” mentality that fostered collaboration and consensus.  Not to say that ideas and policies shouldn’t be challenged, just that we should do it in a diplomatic manner. Whether it is possible in politics is another story but we can hope!

As a young voter, I’m more interested in hearing how the candidates choose to connect with us in the future rather than how they did it in the past. True change requires a leader to be fearless in her or his actions, not just in their words. Great leaders have the responsibility to set aside their differences and work together to create policies that help the heart, soul and body of America. As we celebrate our country’s independence today, I challenge you to remember those who built the foundation of America, and to envision those who will be her caretaker in the future. Today I am also honoring my great-grandfather Jesse Jackson Parrish, who was the president of the Florida Senate during the depression era, and served in the Florida legislature for a quarter century. I often wonder if the state of our country was what he imagined the future would become? Independence is a coat of honor and we need to be diligent in our pursuit of wearing it with pride. Living fearlessly independent while still being dependent on one another is a lifestyle we can choose to shape the future of America. Happy Independence Day! Let your voice be heard!

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