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Mackenna Lee


Disembark, Grow, Illuminate.

This weekend, my insomnia took me to the Financial District in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The Financial District of Manhattan is an open-air museum – charmed buildings of yesteryears stand toe-to-toe with our modern glass monoliths.

A park I passed listed a “Code of Conduct”. My sleep-deprived mind coalesced into this theme: What we humans agree upon implicitly and how we interact with eachother.

My Code of Conduct is to limit assumptions of others, deposit kindness, and to leave physical places in a better state than found.

A public park’s Code of Conduct exposes our level of acceptance with common behaviors – are we hard on skateboarders? Loiterers? Do we allow playing on the grass?

Taking another step back, our legislative bodies form our Code of Conduct as a society. Our responsibilities, expected behaviors, and contributions relay how we work and live by one-another.

My visit to a Financial District institution illuminated our Code of Misconduct as a nation.

The U.S. Custom House (named for Alexander Hamilton) stirred conflicting feelings when I visited. For those unfamiliar, the Beaux-Arts building housed the income-generating engine for the Federal Government, collecting import taxes on arriving ships before the advent of income and duty taxes.


As we stitched together the ideals of this nation, the Customs House balanced the economic realities with the promise of a dream-like vision. A place “of the people, by the people, for the people”, even if this ballad was outside the intentions of the Declaration’s original authors. The Declaration of Independence as a quasi breakup letter and song of self-empowerment is vague enough – the vocabulary choice arms modern readers with requisite firepower to expect more. Sure, there is male-genders included throughout, but the spirit sings inclusivity, even though its authors and modern actors implement it otherwise.

Stepping through the airy rotunda of the U.S. Custom House, you are throttled by awe – how beautiful a place. It wears wealth and promise in its light-emitting ceiling and marbled columns.

At the same time, you realize the half-heartedness of this promise. Those who passed through the halls, delivering imports from afar, did so on the backs of others, who were exploited, stolen from, and forced into labor.

The crux of forming our independence to design an idyllic society is the struggle to actualize it. Declaring our freedom from British Rule created a standard by which to achieve, but not the conditions for living that standard.

Which begs, could it be that the fight to actualize our “American Promise” is the dream? Are the activities to organize, empathize, and congregate part of what makes us whole? Is the demand for more, better, equal and the platform by which we can do make these demands the whole premise of this country? The erasure and revision, the recognition for continuous growth, and the broadening of the human spirit – that’s the dream. That should be our permanent Code of Conduct, that there is none.

We may never land in a state of supreme bliss – society teetering perfectly in a harmonious system. As well, muses in other countries do education, transit, economic diversity, equity, and a whole host of other topics more effectively.

The positive heredity from our Founding Fathers lies not within our structures, the U.S. Customs Houses, nor our laws. Our hearts leave traces of the ever-upward, restless, scrappy compatriots that detangled itself from British rule and said, screw your code of conduct, we have a society to build.

We’ve built it. Now, we have a society to ameliorate.


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