A Work in Progress: Independence Day Speech by Ambassador Suzi LeVine

Excellencies, State Secretary Dell’Ambrogio, Members of the National and Cantonal Governments, Damen und Herren, and fellow people who care about the world

Guten Abig, Bonsoir, Buena Sera, Buno Saira

Before I begin my remarks, I want to give special thanks to a few folks.

  • To my amazing husband and family – You inspire me every day!
  • And to our very generous sponsors. Without you, we could not do all of this! Everyone can see their names on the boards around the soiree and on our website.
  • I’d also like to take a moment to recognize the security professionals who are here – whether it’s the federal police, cantonal or city police, the airport police, the military, our local guard force or others who keep us safe – let us take a moment to thank them!
  • To my extraordinary team – including those departing this summer and those newly arrived – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you are truly the greatest team in the whole world! And remember, the success of any group’s work relies on the team, not just on the leader!

Today, we are celebrating and honoring two incredible milestones: both the 240th birthday of the United States of America and the 100th birthday of the United States National Park Service.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to one of the U.S. or the Swiss National Parks

That’s a lot of you!

Now I want you to close your eyes for a moment and think back to that experience. What are some of the words that come to mind?

Personally – I think of when I was camping with my big brother and peeking out of my tent on the banks of Jackson Lake in the shadow of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Seeing the morning light on the peaks truly took my breath away and brought the word MAJESTY to life.

Or I think of the profound sense of PEACE and CALM I felt when I woke from the best nap that I ever had. My then boyfriend (and now husband) and I were hiking and camping in the Hoh Rainforest in Washington State – one of the largest temperate rainforests in North America – and we had found and occupied a hollowed out tree that had fallen across the Hoh River. Time stood still as we listened to the rocks tumbling in the river beneath us, felt the cool breeze playing with the summer sun on our skin, and smelled the moss and flowers encircling the land and trees around us. All of the noise melted away. There was no social media firehose of information, there was no CNN ticker, there was no SMS texting.

And then there was the time a few years ago when I stood at the foot of Lady Liberty in New York City along with students from all over the world – from Ireland to Iraq and from Senegal to Switzerland. I relived through their eyes and impressions the AWE she inspires and the WELCOME that she communicates to millions of immigrants coming in to the United States. That awe was recently reflected by Swiss Explorer Andre Borschberg when he flew SolarImpulse over her flame and tweeted “This flight over #StatueofLiberty symbolizes US values – liberty of pioneers, liberty to explore, liberty to invent.”

These National Park sites made me feel centered.

And every National Park has inspired in me a sense of RESPONSIBILITY, a deep sense that we are the caretakers of our heritage and that our actions shape our future. How we demonstrate that responsibility shows who we are as people.

A couple of months ago, my family and I went to go see a documentary about U.S. National Parks in the Imax theater at the Verkehrshaus in Luzern. We were reminded that our National Park Service didn’t just materialize on its own. On the contrary – it was because of the passion and the catalytic energy – and I would bet an overwhelming sense of responsibility — of John Muir and how he enlisted President Roosevelt to establish the National Park Service. One man made a huge difference! He recognized the importance of protecting these places in order to protect our environment – and to provide havens that give us perspective.

The decision to create a National Park system is perfectly in line with what I think is one of the most important phrases from the U.S. constitution, a phrase that more than any other states the vision for the U.S.: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union – our Union wasn’t perfect then when the constitution was accepted 240 years ago and it’s not perfect now – but as emphasized in this first line of our constitution, it is our job – our responsibility – to constantly strive to perfect it!

WE the people. it is OUR job!

The preamble of the Swiss constitution highlights that responsibility too: “The Swiss people…conscious of…their responsibility towards future generations…”

That vision and that shared sense of responsibility have guided our relations and our effort here at Embassy Bern, as we work together to “create a more perfect union.”

Three examples of progress this past year come to mind to illustrate that effort:

  • In the theme of nature and conservation – this past year, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the United States were among the 177 nations signing the Paris agreement laid out at COP21- the historic environmental agreement intended to help save our planet for future generations.
  • And in the area of growing our economic ties, we made incredible progress in our collaboration on apprenticeship between Switzerland and the United States in order to increase skills and employment. Nothing brings this home to me better than the story of Dane Lynes – a Chicagoan I met who wanted a better life for himself and his young family – something that being a car salesman wasn’t going to deliver. Now, his American dream can come true because of the Swiss – and Zurich Insurance Group – who accepted him into their inaugural US apprenticeship program from which he’ll receive a salary, skills, a community college associates degree, and a job.
  • Or – last week, we saw how we can learn together to counter violent extremism when Dr. Anne Speckhard, a counter-terrorism expert from Georgetown University, keynoted a countering violent extremism conference put on by the Schweizerischer Städteverband – the Swiss Union of Cities and Towns. She shared her research and learnings from two decades of interviews with former terrorists, their families, and their victims in order to help those concerned understand some of the pathways into terrorism and best practices for prevention and disengagement.

Frankly, we have never been better positioned to achieve that More Perfect Union – and I mean “union” in the broadest sense of the word, a global sense” – and yet, with that firehose of information I mentioned before where, 24/7, we are bombarded with news and information about all the bad that’s happening across the planet, it might not feel like we are doing that well. In fact, it might feel quite bleak and overwhelming.

But I’m here to tell you that that influx of media is yet another example of the fact that we are healthier, safer, and have more opportunity than we have ever had. When, in history, has there been this level of visibility, outrage, and accountability within seconds to actions happening in remote parts of the world? Or – think about the fact that average global life expectancy is now 71 years old – up from 56 years old 50 years ago; that within countries with reliable records, the numbers of violent crime deaths are declining; and that extreme poverty is declining at the fastest rate in human history and is down by 65% over the past 25 years. At this rate, we are within striking distance of eradicating extreme poverty in our lifetimes!

As President Obama often shares – especially with young people: this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, to be free to pursue your dreams.”

This progress isn’t just organic. It’s happening because of the work WE are doing. But despite the examples I just shared, the “WE” in We the People isn’t just me and my team here at the Embassy – or our respective Government leaders. It’s each and every one of us.

Especially based on what’s happening in our world today, here are three simple examples of what you each can do to pursue and contribute to a More Perfect Union:

  1. Visit our National Parks – as well as the national park here in Switzerland – Being in their splendor can fundamentally help provide the perspective we all need to make a difference. And – to experience and honor our most pristine expressions of nature – be sure to turn your phones onto vibrate – or to even leave them behind!
  2. Increase tolerance and diversity – What happened in Orlando is beyond tragic and is a demonstration of what happens with an absence of tolerance and a disdain for diversity. But the outpouring of support that we received here from communities ranging from the LGBT to the interfaith community has been profound and comforting. I encourage everyone here to speak out on behalf of diversity and, when possible, to volunteer to put your ample skills to use helping diverse communities.
  3. Don’t be a bystander/be involved civically – With US elections coming in the fall, Liechtenstein elections early next year, and Swiss elections every 3 months, most of you here have an opportunity to, at least, vote – and/or to get your friends to vote, if not also volunteer . I don’t care for whom or what you vote – it’s just critical that everyone who can vote, do so! We can’t take our democracies for granted and every vote counts! If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

I spoke before about the sense of majesty, peace, calm, awe, hospitality, and sense of responsibility that our National Park Service sites inspire. Those traits remind us that the Perfection of our Union – or the Confederation or the Principality or our WORLD – is absolutely something for which we can and should all strive. And when we take a moment to get perspective, we can see that each and every one of you – of US – can make a difference.

Because “We, the People – CAN FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION.”

Thank you.