Back home in the States today, fireworks explode, symphonies play the battle hymns of our Republic, picnics and apple pie bring family and friends together; all in celebration of the nation’s birth–the birth of the American Myth. The American mythos and story of Place center around freedom, democracy and the ideal of patriotism. These are bold, and modern, mythologies that stir the blood and sense of national pride. But just what is it that Americans are proud of? Giving the two finger salute to the British!
You see, we are a nation of dissenters; a crowd that questions authority. In fact, we are a nation founded on the very idea of questioning authority. A friend of mine, who is both a lawyer and community organizer, had this to say regarding our Independence Day celebrations, and I figure I can’t say it any better.
American patriotism is more than flag shirts, the Pledge of Allegiance, fireworks, and cookouts. We’re a nation founded on the very idea of questioning authority. On the idea of holding our elected leaders accountable. On the idea of respecting our religious diversity and treating all citizens as equal in the eyes of the law. The idea of America is that this is supposed to be a safe place for unpopular opinions and that, in fact, the free expression of all those opinions–popular, unpopular, and somewhere in the middle–help us on our collective quest for Truth and the best way forward.
In short, true patriotism is essentially about activism and raising our voices. For this American experiment to work, we citizens have to participate. We have to be activists by voting, sure, but there’s more to it. A lot happens in the periods between elections, the real work. Does your activism consist only of “liking” Facebook posts that you agree with? If that’s all you’re doing, that ain’t helping your cause, I promise. We need you at the legislature, at the city council meetings, making phone calls, and doing everything you can to get results on the issues that matter to you.
True American patriotism is also about respecting those who dissent from the majority view. To me, there’s nothing more American than dissent. If you mist up when the national anthem is played, or have a love for the Constitution, or get choked up thinking about our soldiers protecting our American way of life, a big part of that way of life is respecting our differences. That means respecting the rights of other religious groups, and it even means respecting atheists. If you’re out there trying to stop a mosque from being built in your community because you don’t like Muslims, that is not an American way of handling things. If you’re suing to force public schools to lead prayers to your one particular god, that is very un-American. If you’re out there trying to deny LGBT people the same legal rights that straights have, that’s un-American. Don’t pledge allegiance to the flag while you’re working to deny the equal protection of the law to other groups of Americans. You’re smarter than that.
Dissent is also about bucking the system and standing up to our government when they’re doing wrong. The American Revolution was about dissent. So is the Tea Party. So are war protesters. So is the Occupy Movement. So is the Sierra Club. So are you, when you show up at a rally, or write a letter to an elected official, or head to the Capitol to shout down an attempt to take away the right of women to exercise their own reproductive freedom. Dissent isn’t liberal or conservative. It’s not something that should be sneered at. It’s just part of our American heritage.
Patriotism in our American democracy, TRUE patriotism, is not easy. It’s hard. There’s a lot of work involved, and you have to spend time listening to a lot of people who hold views very different from your views. Some of those views will make your blood boil, but a true patriot listens respectfully instead of just working to shut the other view down. That’s not easy. Our system of government means that this is the recipe for decision-making: work hard, listen, air out all the views and differences, and then push your leaders to make the right decision based on all the information presented.
It’s a lot easier just to put a flag sticker on your car, but there’s more to it than that, man.
So on this 4th of July, between the picnics and fireworks, let’s take a moment to reflect on what it all means. Let’s resolve to be true patriots, Americans who do the work, listen to each other respectfully, dissent when we need to dissent, be rabble rousers or part of the rabble that is roused, and make the change that needs to happen.
Let Freedom Ring.