Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reclaiming Patriotism

What is patriotism? Who loves America?

Millions of patriots wave the flag and declare that they love USA. But which USA? Sometimes it seems we love a country that never existed, and despise the country we actually have. Do we really mean 'God bless America'? Or just God bless myself?

The reality is we do a poor job of loving most of America.  We love the declaration of independence, but continue to live as though much of it is a lie. We do not believe we are all "created equal," but instead that some of us are just plain lazy, stupid, ill-fit, and unworthy. We value 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' but deny it to the 49 million Americans living below the poverty line.

We rally around the Constitution but ignore its very first sentence, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility." Have we forgotten this founding mission, even as we make false idols of our founders?

The same revered document admonishes us to 'provide for the general Welfare,' yet we despise families that are in need of such support. 

We fight to keep the Pledge of Allegiance intact in our schools, but ignore the words "and justice for all"--we like to pretend that it just says "with liberty." We behave as though 'liberty' and 'justice' are opposing forces, forgetting that they have always been, and must remain, inextricable allies. We pride ourselves on our freedom, while maintaining the highest incarceration rate in the world (we hold ~25% of the world's prisoners in our cells).

We laud Independence Day 1776, knowing that millions did not gain freedom for another century, and that millions more remain in bondage today. We celebrate July 4th, knowing that in the creation of one nation, hundreds of others lost their sovereignty.

We wear t-shirts with the Statue of Liberty, but bare our teeth at the immigrants she was erected to welcome. We love her flame held high, but spit at the plaque at her base: "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." But given our history, you cannot be a patriot of this country and a bigot toward our immigrants at the same time.

We declare 'support our troops!'  But if you 'support our troops' that means you must support our young, our poor, our people of color-- the populations that are fighting our wars. But we cheer our troops while maintaining the systems of injustice that oppress the soldiers fighting on our behalf. 

If you 'support our troops,' it means you keep their streets at home just as safe as they have kept the streets abroad. It means you give them access to the homes and jobs that they have kept secure. It means you provide the healthcare that keeps their families healthy. It means if they are legal to fight, they are legal to attend school, and that you admit them into your colleges. 

We wage war against those that killed ~3000 on September 11th, but turn a blind eye to the 245,000 poverty-related deaths that occur every year. Is our reaction different because of the identity of the victims, or that of the aggressors?  

You say you are afraid of those that want to destroy our country. But so am I. I love the USA. So much so that I will not stand for the bigots, the oppressors, and the fear mongers who try to destroy it. We need to understand that our 'American values' are meaningless if they apply only to the privileged. We need to make clear everything that is anti-American about hate.

We need to reframe what it means to love America and who gets to be the patriots. It is patriotic to care for our neighbors. It is patriotic to educate our children, feed our hungry, and clothe our naked. We need to reclaim patriotism for the Americans.

8 comments:

  1. Wonderful reflection. But I just don't know if we can reclaim something that we never had!

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  2. This is one of my favorite posts. Much to think on and act upon.

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  3. Rather intensely convicting word. Thank you.

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  4. Thank YOU! Still processing, myself.

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  5. *thinks for a moment* This is all true. And perhaps the easiest way, PR wise, is the point that many of our veterans are in poverty. It cues into the patriotic sympathies that already exist, veterans' military service cues right into white culture values of hard work--so it could bypass the usual stereotypes that often come with poverty I.E lazy, emails/memes of drug testing people on food-stamps etc, and most importantly, the classification of veteran has a chance of overcoming uneasiness about race. As it seems taboo to even mention race in color-blind white culture. If said veteran isn't white, the emphasis placed on veteran status may be enough to register "more like me" than if news stories mention institutionalized racism.

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  6. Indeed! 'Supporting our troops' is one of those big things that folks are quick to affirm. So what does it mean with those are the folks being hurt by the system...and coupling that with the demographics of who is serving in the military. Potentially a very valuable tool.

    I know there has not always been such a strong call in support of military folk. Vietnam vets were disparaged in a way that our military personnel are not now. Their levels of homelessness were often seen as pathological rather than systemic. I wonder what factors were in play, what changed, and how to learn from that.

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