Jon “JT ” thompson, sedona City council

Who Is an American? Who Is a Sedonan?

4 Jul 2022 4:03 PM | Jon Thompson (Administrator)

Happy Independence Day!

Last evening a national news program aired a segment in anticipation of today’s Independence Day celebration. They asked some random people on the street and on Zoom what it meant to be an American. It seems like a simple enough question, but the answers were quite varied, and they didn’t come easily. And I found it hard to come up with my own definition of American as well.

Someone born on American soil. That would be the easy, literal answer. But it’s only a starting point. We need to include naturalized citizens, of course, as well as those born outside the U.S. to an American parent who fulfills a U.S. residency requirement. And we need to exclude those who have formally renounced their citizenship. But what about today’s Dreamers who have never known another home country, the draft dodgers of fifty years ago who fled to Canada, or the enslaved people brought here during our early history and the indigenous people whose ancestors were here long before Columbus—did these people at some point earn or forfeit the right to be called Americans, regardless of their citizenship status?

This definition is getting complicated. But the news of just the past week or so raises even more questions. For example:

  • If a January 6th rioter is found guilty of seditious conspiracy, is he still entitled to keep his citizenship in the country whose very government he was attacking? And does it make a difference if he sincerely thought his actions were necessary to save the America he loves?
  • Does the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent overturn of Roe v. Wade mean that an embryo just conceived on U.S. soil is an American citizen? And if states are allowed to decide whether abortion is legal or not within their borders, does that mean that the states are now also deciding whether a fetus is an American or not?

It quickly gets really philosophical and political. But as long as we have laws and courts to look after the rules and exceptions, is it even necessary to have a simple definition of American? That’s the question I asked myself after watching the news. And for me the answer came back yes because as a member of the Sedona City Council, I need to be clear about who I represent; and just as with the elusive definition of American, I find that my definition of Sedonan doesn’t neatly and exclusively apply to only and all the residents within our city’s borders.

Home addresses within our borders is certainly the default starting point. But how can I not care about and represent those who have lost their Sedona address and live in their car or in the forest? Or those who for many years have commuted to work for our city government or for the many businesses in town and would move here in a heartbeat if they could afford to? Or those whose Sedona address is today a second home and are counting the days when they can retire and move here permanently? Or how about those living on county land just up the canyon or on the western outskirts and are active in Sedona as volunteers, patrons of our arts, and regulars at our shops and restaurants?

On the other hand, how can I be expected to feel the same sense of responsibility for those whose home is within city limits but who show little regard for their neighbors’ welfare? Or are more focused on the personal wealth they can extract from our visitor economy than on the community welfare they could contribute to? We have many views on how our city can best be run, but is there a point at which opposing the will of the majority goes beyond constructive dissent and enters into the intentionally destructive territory of misinformation and groundless accusation for strictly selfish or ideological ends? If I say I represent all Sedonans, must I include those intent on disrupting the values that most Sedonans hold dear?

On this Independence Day, I’m grateful for the opportunities and entitlements I enjoy as an American. I also accept the responsibility to do my part to guarantee those great privileges to the Americans who will succeed me, just as I am deeply indebted to those who came before me. Many others in our land are expressing or at least feeling the same way today, and I am proud to be counted among them as true Americans. So that’s my definition of American. And if you substitute Sedonan for American, that works too.

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Background photo by Taylor Van Riper on Unsplash.

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