An American Anthem: An Open Letter To Chamath Palihapitiya


New York, 7/4/24: We walked down to the riverwalk along the Hudson River. It was hot, and the sun was setting. Kids, dogs, bikes, humans. As the sun began to set, we walked out on the pier at 80th Street. Busy, but not too crowded. We settled at the end of the pier, looking south toward the promised fireworks.

A Hispanic man with his family offered us an extra chair. A Hasidic family settled in. A Muslim family arrived. A woman with a special needs young man arrived with a flashlight.

Then a young man arrived, alone, with a small satchel. He pulled out a metal stand and began to set it up. We all wondered what he was up to. He pulled out a speaker, pretty large, like a professional sound system).

Everyone noticed. Was he with some sort of official performance? He shrugged, nope. The sun set and he connected his phone. And then he began to play music. And people began to dance.



Then it was 9:25. The neighborhood DJ played Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA.” The fireworks lit up the sky. The DJ switched to an anthem from 1971,  “American Pie” by Don McLean. The crowd, a mix of colors, shapes, sizes, religions, and ages, all knew the words and sang along.

“A long, long time ago

I can still remember how that music

Used to make me smile

And I knew if I had my chance

That I could make those people dance

And maybe they'd be happy for a while.”

It was a strangely joyous moment. No matter that the lyrics are somewhat ominous, this American Pie was a delicious recipe of diversity.

As we walked home, I swam in a sea of community and complexity. And my thoughts turned to Chamath Palihapitiya, a self-made internet billionaire. He’d posted something on X that had been eating at me for days.

His post: “When a company loses revenues or customers, it drops prices or improves service. Otherwise it goes bankrupt. California and New York need to hear the message more than anyone. If all the mobile, wealthy people leave California and New York and mostly middle and lower income people are left to pay their exorbitant taxes and deal with rampant crime, both states will fail.”

Palihapitiya is a Sri Lankan-born first generation American. His father was frequently unemployed, and his mother did low-paying housekeeping jobs. At age 14, Palihapitiya worked at a Burger King to support his family.

Given his success, power, and influence, how did he become so addicted to amplifying anger?

I think Facebook, the company he helped get off the ground as an early senior exec, may be ground zero on the technology that now amplifies anger and fear at the cost of our civil society.

New York and “rampant crime,” says Palihapitiya -- even as he knows the facts don’t reflect anything like that. The hate-for-profit media he participates in points its anger engine at people who look and sound like HIM.  His children, the Palihapitiya family, and its friends and neighbors are in danger of being marginalized and extradited by the very flames he stokes.

Back to New York. Now I’m at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park with a thousand other neighbors. It’s a warm summer night, and the event -- as are all Summer For The City events -- is free. Another mix of faces, colors, ages, and economic strata. Tonight, we’re listening to Americans who wrote new songs for the Anthem to US project, presented by the Brooklyn Public Library and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

The concert also celebrates music that has served as anthems of hope, peace, protest and resilience -- from classics like Louis Armstrong's “What A Wonderful World” and Simon & Garfunkel's “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.”

Again, people singing together, hands in the air -- an embrace of democracy, along with the unspoken fear of the dangers that could lie ahead.

And again, I think of Palihapitiya. I wish he and his Sri Lankan family were with us, enjoying the sweet embrace of the American melting pot, rather than fueling fear with fictional stories of looming crime.

Among the new anthems introduced is "We Are US," composed by Jaime Lozano, whose lyrics, by Jaquetta Bustion, go as follows:

"In this land of freedom, Let all be free,  To dream, to  learn, To do, to be.  In this land of plenty, Let us all have our fill, To dream, to learn, That we may live  and love as we will.  May we  raise our own flag. Let it fly.  For loyalty, pride, for injustice defied. In this land of riches, let all have health. And ever treasure the commonwealth.

In this land of labor, may we toil for good.

And through understanding must  be understood.  May we raise our own flag,  hold it high. In peace and in memory of every battle cried. Come on, Jessie. In this land of many, let it ring. Each one sing,  and from our joined voices, let harmonies ring. Under that banner of red, white, and blue, you carry me, and I'll carry you.

May we raise our own flag, let it fly. Oh, baby, we are all unified. Let them fly, let them fly. Let them fly, everybody. Let them fly, everybody. Let them fly, let them fly. Let them fly. Oh, the people, let them fly. Let them fly. Let them fly.  Let them fly, let them fly, let them fly, fly, fly."

1 comment about "An American Anthem: An Open Letter To Chamath Palihapitiya".
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  1. Paul Bledsoe from Bledsoe Advertising/Productions, July 9, 2024 at 9:09 a.m.

    I like your commentary, and America is freedom for everyone to live, enjoy life, feel safe, and become what you want to be. Maybe it isn't just anger, but a wake-up call for everyone to sit back, and solely understand our incredible constitution, and what it stands for. Freedom to choose, chart your business course, and feel comfortable with your business success without the chaos of outside interference from crime, and civility. 

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