Young, Scrappy and Hungryby Brie Stimson January 29, 2018
I had the good luck to be able to see “Hamilton” when it first came to San Diego in January. I was intrigued by the phenomenon surrounding the musical, but
admittedly, hadn’t given the content of the show much thought. I knew it was about Alexander Hamilton – obviously – I knew people of color had been cast in the main roles of the founding fathers and I knew the story was told mostly through hip-hop and rap. Basically, I knew it was a big deal. I went to the theater that night fully expecting to be entertained, which I was, but I was not expecting to be inspired. I was surprised by how much the musical made me think – about politics, history, our country and what it means to be an American.
“Hamilton” tells the story of an immigrant who loved his country so much he’s was willing to die for it. And when the Rebels won the Revolution, the founders realized they had to create a government that would last them past New Year’s 1788. Essentially, “Hamilton” is a love letter to democracy. A person might say the show is just pandering to our emotions about patriotism, but that’s missing the point.
Democracy is not immovable. The Constitution was not written in stone. We have 27 amendments that remind us our country can (and must) change. Freedom is not free, as they say, but neither is democracy. It requires constant attention, devotion, thought, courage and love. Love of one’s country can be going into battle, it can be flying the American flag, but it can also be having the hard discussions about what’s not working.
Hamilton and Washington and Jefferson knew the country they were forming wasn’t perfect and 242 years later it still isn’t. But they had the wisdom to put protections in place to make sure America didn’t have to crawl back to England on its knees before the ink had dried. They created checks and balances with equal power so we couldn’t have a megalomaniac step in as king, and in the very first amendment they gave the people the right to protest the government and the press the right to be critical of the government. (If it wasn’t for the First Amendment, this column might be about which of President Trump’s tweets is the most poetic – my money’s on ‘wires tapped’).
I’m sure no one here needs a civics lesson, but it never hurts for any of us to have a reminder that democracy is a participatory sport and we’ll all play better if we understand the rules.
I know “Hamilton” isn’t an easy ticket to land if you don’t have $500 to throw away on a night at the theater or Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phone number on speed dial, but that doesn’t excuse us from being present while governing happens. There’s always a way to get inspired. There’s always a way to be involved.
In the show, Hamilton says he’s “young, scrappy and hungry” just like his country. Have we changed that much? I’d say America and its citizens are just as scrappy and hungry for democracy as they were 240-some-odd years ago – but as anyone who’s ever worked toward something knows being hungry requires passion and hard work every day. We need to wake up every morning grateful that we get to live in one of the best countries in the world and make sure we’re never afraid to speak up when something needs to be changed.
As “Hamilton” said, “I’m not throwing away my shot.”