At what point did America become a butterfly?
It wasn't instantly the shining beacon of mythological proportions we celebrate on this day. It was a rag-tag operation for a good 15 years between declaring our independence in 1776 and the official implementation of the Constitution in 1791.
During that span, our fledgling country underwent a metamorphosis — from fighting for the idea that we had a right to rule ourselves to establishing the infrastructure to actually do it.
It wasn't the smoothest transition. The system of governance we know today is actually the second in the nation's history. In the first, the states were organized into a union under the Articles of Confederation. In the spirit of independence and suspicious of tyranny, the Founding Fathers initially made the central government weak.
As the Preamble acknowledges, the Constitution was drafted and ratified to "form a more perfect union" — the one we know today that backstops the Declaration of Independence's assertion that certain rights are unalienable. Still, it would take another 175 years for certain members of society to be fully enfranchised to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The point here is that America has always been a work in progress, but an aspirational one. The words "a more perfect union" speak to the country's willingness to challenge itself to get better, which it has done time and again. We've changed the number of states; the rights of citizens, particularly the disenfranchised; and yes, we've even changed how we elect our presidents, with the current electoral process not taking final form until well into the 19th century.
It's the spirit of America we celebrate on this day and that spirit lives here and in every community across the country.
We live in heated times, when political polarization has tested our sense of what it means to be patriotic. It's easy to be discouraged about the future when we're so divided on immigration, tariffs, foreign policy, climate change, election meddling and on and on.
We get lost in the fog of policy battles and overlook that the system itself is still pretty dang good at facilitating positive change. We argue over whether America is still the Greatest Country on Earth while enjoying an ever-improving standard of living.
We're in the midst of an unprecedented period of economic expansion (10 years) without a recession — the longest since economists starting keeping track of such things — which is evident even locally. For the first time in recent memory, the rate of District 51 students on free and reduced lunch is below 50 percent — a reflection of shrinking poverty in Mesa County. Average household income, though still far too low, is increasing in Mesa County.
These are the small reminders that Independence Day ultimately delivered a system of governance that begat the economic framework we live in today — one that provides freedom to shape our own destiny.
We're doing it. For example, we're finally putting the riverfront to appropriate use at both Las Colonias and Dos Rios (just one of many ways this community is trying to spur economic growth) while also opening up new recreational opportunities and improving the health of the river's ecosystem.
At the center of Las Colonias is a small lake in the shape of a butterfly — an apt metaphor for this community's transition. As we celebrate our independence as a nation, we can take note of how our own evolution as a community is underpinned by the founders' desire to form a more perfect union — always striving to improve.