Surely what Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, on November 19, 1863, stands, even today, as the best statement of what all Americans want:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
While Lincoln's words (and all of them) still define our aspirations, I think we focus, today, mostly on the idea that our government should be "for" the people. Our main desire is for a government that is not just for the white people, not just for the wealthy, not just for men, not just for the privileged and the propertied, but for "the people," for everyone; for all of us.
Our preeminent desire for such a government, a government that is truly "for" the people, is understandable, since our current government is so obviously not for "the people." Our government is of, by, and for the privileged. That description of our government is so plain to so many that our collective faith in our government has been strained to the breaking point.
But wanting a government to be "for" the people, is to ask that we "be governed" in a way that is fair to all, and that favors us all.
We are missing the other parts of the equation. What Lincoln said is that we must not let a government "of" the people, and "by" the people perish from this earth.
It is my profound belief that we will never have a government "for" the people, until the government is both "of" and "by" the people first.
That means that we, ordinary men and women, must seize back the role of governing ourselves. Some people call it a "Brand New Congress." At every level of our government, we must take charge of the governmental powers that derive, in fact, from "the people," from each one of us. Those governmental powers will be deployed "for" us only when they are deployed "by" us.
Taking over our government. Put it on your "to do" list!