Remarks of Chargé d’Affaires Karen Sasahara on the Occasion of U.S. Independence Day, July 4, 2020

Good evening. Thank you for joining us. 

As many of you have already experienced, our Fourth of July celebration usually takes place in the back yard of the ambassador’s residence here on the embassy compound. The onset and spread of COVID-19 around the world has profoundly changed the way we live, do business, and celebrate all the milestones and special moments of public and private life. I’ve missed being able to see everyone in-person, but like everyone else, we’re embracing technology to its fullest to keep in touch and carry out our work. So, in this year of COVID, we’ve decided to do our 4th of July celebration virtually.  

This year, we’re commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America. On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was finalized and went into law ending a century-long struggle for a right that is widespread and taken for granted in most countries today. 

Gaining the right to vote was a giant step in the road towards full participation in public life and having a voice in the political arena. But that wasn’t the only battle. In 1960’s America, women still needed their husband’s signature to open a bank account or to get a credit card. Unmarried women couldn’t have a credit card and were denied access to loans. Ivy leagues schools were not accepting women. 

Independence comes in many forms, whether it’s building a nation after a hard-fought revolution and searching for that more perfect union or achieving financial independence and the ability to support a family, or to express oneself freely.  

I think everyone has an innate desire to participate fully in the social or political life of their country. The right to reach one’s fullest potential may not be an amendment or a law, but it’s a human desire that manifests itself time and time again, usually starting with questions like “why not?” “what if,” and “how can I…?” 

Everyone has something to offer if given the chance. During my almost year and a half in Jordan, I have had the pleasure of traveling around Amman and the country. It has been a great opportunity to see the partnerships that the embassy has built through USAID and our public affairs section to help launch small businesses, NGOs, and strengthen civil society that in turn supports Jordanians and others who want to work on behalf of their communities to contribute and make a difference.  

My time spent at the Buniyat Center for Special Education showed me the dedication of the center’s leadership and staff to help every student reach his or her fullest potential. Likewise, the work of the Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities striving to improve physical access to voting centers. Young entrepreneurs, elected officials, students looking to study abroad or seeking career counseling from their universities, are all partnerships to help ordinary citizens or future leaders find their path here in Jordan. 

How ironic that Covid-19 is the great global equalizer. It targets all ages, races, and genders. Those with money, power, or position are not immune, as we’ve seen from cases of COVID among prominent international figures. The pandemic is a global struggle not seen since World War II. Here in Jordan, under the direction of his majesty, the government moved quickly to slow the spread of COVID. The numbers compared to those of other countries is admirable and exemplary. The Jordanian government has been equally diligent in monitoring the national economic health. It’s a delicate balancing act for all of our countries. 

As an American abroad, I’m watching events and developments back home, thinking about my family and friends and praying that they stay well. But my thoughts extend to everyone across America, as states struggle to find that balance between public health and their economy, matched in intensity only by the race of scientists around the world to develop a vaccine. 

We hope that at some point, the peaks of COVID flatten and the numbers of cases and deaths taper off, if not, stop. Not knowing how it acts or what will happen is probably the hardest and most unsettling aspect of this virus. But as we continue to move through the stages of the virus, we must find ways to stay focused on what we are doing, how to live our lives better, be better friends and neighbors, or colleagues, and most of all, treat strangers with kindness. COVID may delay us on our path forward, but it shouldn’t distract us from our goals and dreams, or degrade our ways of life or steer us away from the values that define our countries, who we are, and the strengths and determination that made us who we are today. 

There’s a proverb that says with adversity comes opportunity. Let us find the way to improve what we can, whether it’s strengthening the social fabric or finding ways to reach our fullest potential. We’ll continue to work together to find that way forward.  

I want to turn to something else that is very much on my mind and on the minds of Americans. The death of George Floyd, who was pinned down under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, shocked the world, fueling demands for justice. As senior officials at all levels across the U.S. government have said, his death is a tragedy that should never have happened. The video of his final moments has filled Americans with horror, anger, and grief. Americans took to the streets in protest. Those protests continue in cities around the country. Regrettably, Mr. Floyd’s death is not unique; African Americans face a higher probability of injury or death during an encounter with law enforcement. 

The vast majority of law enforcement officers across our country deserve praise for their public service and professionalism, often in dangerous situations. We must, however, recognize that police brutality is a serious issue that threatens the credibility of our justice system. Police everywhere have a duty to serve and protect the public. When they fall short, they must be held accountable. 

Unfortunately, the protests that are ongoing have been accompanied by violence, and in some instances, looting and destruction of public and private property. These acts are indefensible and detract from the real issue: The death of George Floyd, and how to stop these kinds of deaths that happen again and again. 

This is a time of soul searching, frank, open dialogue, and subsequent action to stop this scenario. It is hard to acknowledge and even harder to start the conversations on the death of George Floyd and the overall context, societal or historical, in which his death occurred. People will draw different conclusions about what happened and the events since late May. Some will focus on contradictions, if not what they believe are the hypocrisy of our words versus our actions. Fine. What is important is that we acknowledge our shortcomings and societal wrongs, because these problems will not solve themselves. We Americans must work together even harder to ensure that everyone in our country is treated equally under the law and within American society. So let the healing start and the much-needed dialogue begin in this first step towards, as written in the preamble of our constitution, “A more perfect union.” 

Thank you again. And may God bless Jordan and God bless the United States of America.