Side Adventure of a Grad Student: NYC; Or How America is More Than Just A Country

Edit: I initially started this post on the 22nd. It took me a while to finish it.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, meaning that the last 4 days, which I spent in good ol’ New York, New York, were the last days of summer. It also means that today,  the equatorial plane will pass through the center of the sun and the amount of day and night are nearly equal.

Equal. Equality.

This was my first trip to The Big Apple. Having grown up on the West Coast, I’d only interacted with the city as something abstract, as a movie set or as a historical setting. Sometimes it was this far away place (with a literal continent between us) where things were ‘happening’. And I’d been to San Francisco and L.A., so Having confined most of my early travel to the bounds of California with brief excursions into the neighboring states (and even shorter trips to Tijuana, Mexico), it never really occurred to me that I might visit the famed city.

Some of it failed to live up to expectations, as anything that’s built up in your mind will. Times Square was impressive and even a bit sickening with the bombardment of advertisements. Impressive, but I didn’t get that grandiose feeling I thought I’d have. But there were places that exceeded already high expectations.

Our first day, after a long bus ride and subway rides in both DC and NYC, we walked the Brooklyn Bridge. Now that was a sight! We inadvertently took part in a bit of a march for a union protest (possibly a strike) against Charter Spectrum. Having dealt with that company before as a customer, I can’t don’t want to imagine how they treat employees. Later we went to Times Square, had some Japanese curry, and ended up walking over a half marathon worth of steps.

I caught my first Broadway show (Miss Saigon) and a strange off-Broadway ‘experience’ called Sleep No More. I walked through Chinatown (lunch and a massage) and Little Italy (obligatory cannoli eaten). I had New York Style pizza, which it turns out I’ve honestly had before at “Celestino’s New York Pizza” right next CSU Chico’s campus!  And finally even a legitimate NYC bagel that I scarfed down on our last morning.

It is this last morning, one where we grabbed bagels and the Staten Island Ferry, that is really where the unexpected happened.

I don’t think anyone would confuse me for a knee-jerk “America is the best nation ever. Period.” kind of person. I think it is important recognize flaws, otherwise you’ll never correct them. Yet, that right there, that idea of perpetually correcting flaws, whether they are inherent in the system or just in how it is enacted, is something core to the American ideal.

The Staten Island Ferry runs for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is free for all passengers. And it goes by Liberty Island, affording a tremendous view of the Statue of Liberty. This view shook me to the core. I wont deny getting teary-eyed seeing it up close for the first time. Buy why? It is a 131 year old statue, that was a gift. I’ve even made fun of it a few times, as something that France gave us so they could unload people they didn’t want. Not really a funny joke, and I’ve made a lot of those. Buy why is this statue important? Why would it make me get misty-eyed.

First, the statue could have just been something that was a a celebration of our citizens being free, having carved out a space for ourselves (and ourselves alone) to be free from tyranny. And some of our citizens really stick to that idea. That America is exceptional and exceptionally alone in its awesomeness.

Anytime I hear the phrase America First, it makes me sick. Because they are wrong. The French designed and made the statue and gifted it to us but we decided which way she faced. As it was a joint venture, we built the base (pedestal) for it. In an effort to pay for the pedestal, Emma Lazarus wrote and donated a poem called “The New Colossus” which you are at least somewhat familiar. It is inscribed on a bronze plaque and contains the famous lines “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lady Liberty stands with a broken chain at her feet. She faces outward with her torch and calls to “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” She is the essential idea of America. America is not a group with some shared ethnicity or creed or even birth place. It is the acceptance of an ideology “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed […] with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Inherent:          in·her·ent          /inˈhirənt, inˈherənt/     adjective

  1. existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute.
    “any form of mountaineering has its inherent dangers”
    synonyms: intrinsicinnateimmanentbuilt-in, indwelling, inborningraineddeep-rooted;

Inalienable:       in·al·ien·a·ble      /inˈālēənəb(ə)l/         adjective

  1. unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.
    “freedom of religion, the most inalienable of all human rights”
    synonyms: inviolableabsolutesacrosanct;

This is not to even slightly imply that this has been implemented well. At the time the Declaration of Independence was penned, slavery was legal. Genocide of Native Peoples was well underway. It needs to be remembered that we are NOT just a nation of immigrants. We a nation of the decedents of slaves and those who owned them, of native people and those who slaughtered them, the victims and perpetrators of some of the malicious acts in history. Men of color gained the right to vote before women did. Cycles of distrust and violence and isolationism repeat and repeat and repeat. These attitudes still persist.

But the idea is… we move forward. The Preamble to the Constitution doesn’t say “to form a perfect Union.” It says a more perfect Union. Old-timey speak for closer to perfect.

If you are worried some immigrant is coming to ‘steal your job’ then you have no real understanding of how economics works and are clearly lacking the skills to compete. If you are pissed off that some athletes did the most peaceful protest possible, by taking a knee during the anthem, then wake the hell up. If you are NOT pissed that peaceful protesters were surrounded by police in battle armor, sprayed in the face with pepper spray, while they tried to leave but COULD NOT due to the police not letting them… so they were then thrown to the ground and beaten, then you REALLY need to wake the hell up.

This is America. A place that is NOT perfect. Yet it is our duty as Americans to push forward toward an ever more perfect country. Wake up and join the fight for freedom or you can just sit there, and through your complacency, spit on the very idea of this country.

Author: The Other St. Louis Arch

My name is Adam J. Archibald. I’m a 7th(?) year graduate student at Washington University in Saint Louis. The bulk of my work has been focused on the development of a torsion balance experiment to investigate gravitation at distances below a centimeter. I've also devoted a great deal of time on an experiment probing for violation of the Weak Equivalence Principle. Outside of the lab I enjoy board games, rock climbing, playing music, reading, and occasionally writing.

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