Friday, April 29, 2011

On Becoming a US Citizen

I was asked to speak at the swearing in ceremony, on April 29th 2011 in PIttsburgh, Penssylvania, at which 51 of us became American Citizens. After thanking the judge, the attorney, and all who work for the court and the immigration service who had helped us along the way, this is what I said:

At Jewish Passovers, it is traditional for a young member of the family to ask “Why is this day special?”, whereupon one of the grandparents tells the moving story of a nation’s founding, a nation’s freedom. Every year on our own Independence Day (also my daughter Elinor’s birthday), I find myself wishing that we had the same tradition: amid the pleasures of a good meal, a cold beer, and the anticipation of fireworks, to stop and ask “Why is this day special?”

If you’re British in America, you have a special advantage here - every year on Independence Day you can’t avoid the question! And so it was for me, on my first Independence Day here, and every year: and it is a wonderful and moving journey. Schoolchildren in England are usually taught something about the French and Russian Revolutions, but not the American Revolution. It is never mentioned in political or social history, and in military history, American Independence is skated over in shuffling embarrassment, something of a hiccup in an otherwise clean slate from King Alfred to Francis Drake, to Nelson to Churchill. Coming to America, Britons have to learn afresh and question themselves.

The American Revolution was about much much more than whether people on one side of the Atlantic should govern people on another. The Revolution took the best of English and European traditions: Magna Carta, the Religious Settlement under Elizabeth, the French Enlightenment and the Rights of Man, and made something real, practical, resilient, sustainable, something we could implement as the cornerstone of freedom. Government of the people, by the people, for the people: however imperfect we the people are, it is our way to the Creator’s endowment of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The American Revolution did not end in chaos or dictatorship. It cannot be placed in one period of history, the student can not finish the chapter and move on. It led to a new law, the Constitution, which governs each of us as individuals, but is itself governed by the people as a whole. It is part of a great campaign of the rights of humanity spanning centuries: that freedom cannot be restricted by religion or color, that voting cannot be restricted by wealth or gender. The Revolution spread, winning converts who made it their own. After two generations, in 1832, Britain passed its own reform act, so that, as in the USA, representation in government was based on population, not on ancient privilege. In 1867, Canada moved peacefully to its own democratic independence. People throughout every continent have thrown off old overlords and forge their own destinies: France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Japan, India, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, a daring, growing list that would have amazed our founding fathers. And with events in the Middle East, the reach of freedom may even be spreading further than any of us would have imagined only a few months ago.

Every nation is unique, every people brings its own insight and value to the world table. But we believe there is a unifying theme to all humanity: that we all share rights including Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These rights, though divinely endowed, are for many people today as distant as the dreams that must have sustained the American Revolutionaries through some of their bitter, doubtful winters. To this day, it is a hope for all people, a natural birthright, worth the devotion of a lifetime.

To this, I too dedicate myself. I am here today not because my story is inspiring: I am here because America’s story is inspiring. I am honored, I am grateful, to take part. Thank you all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Talked with the Governor of Pennsylvania!

Earlier today I got to have a good and very direct chat with Governor Corbett.

He was visiting Google Pittsburgh, there wasn't an organized "question and answer" session, but I hoped that if I positioned myself between the photo ops and the cafeteria he might just bump into me and say hello, which is precisely what happened.

We were very friendly and polite to each other, but nonetheless traded opinions on some tough issues. In particular, I wanted him to know that his statement "I don't think anyone here wants to pay any more in taxes" does not speak for me, and I know many other Googlers who it doesn't speak for. If more money in taxation is required for good schools for our children, then we'll pay it. People who work for Google are choosing between many options in many parts of the world, so if Pennsylvania is competing for tech talent (as the Governor emphasized), the state needs to be aware that we care about issues like education.

Of course, the Governor didn't say "Wow, you're right, I should change the budget proposals". But he did listen. We both agreed that Google employees are privileged and not-your-average-citizen. He did talk about longer term options for paying for schools and universities, voucher systems and choice. He recognizes that long-term, we need better education, it builds stronger communities, lower crime, more prosperous societies. And (something I haven't heard so much in the public speeches) he emphasized that the stop-gap budget he had to come out with in 6 weeks is not his long-term vision for Pennsylvania: longer term we need to have a much more strategic and visionary approach.

There is much we disagree on, and I'll still be surprised if we come to agree enough about his concrete proposals for me to vote for him next time. But we were both receptive and respectful, and I very much appreciated his taking the time to talk with me. He said "watch this space, we're not always going to be in crisis mode", and I will certainly watch it carefully, look at subsequent budget proposals, and consider his record and manifesto carefully if he stands for reelection.

I really appreciate opportunities like this. There might be a few jobs where you get to talk to your State Governor in person, but I bet I have one of the only jobs where you get to talk to your State Governor dressed in shorts and sandals and nobody thinks it's at all unusual!