This weekend, I found myself cranky and apathetic on the fourth of July. I wasn’t feeling it. I stayed home and watched James Earl Jones read Frederick Douglas’ speech, “What is the Fourth of July to a Negro?” I read a reflection on the Fourth of July from a Puerto Rican. I read a reflection on the Fourth of July from a Navajo in Gallup, New Mexico, named “Most Patriotic Small Town.”
I was invited to a traditionally American BBQ party with lawn games and copious quantities of food and alcohol, but I didn’t go. I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate. What would I be celebrating? A colonial entity that split itself from its colonizer, only to go forth and terrorize, and I quote from the Declaration of Independence here, “the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages”?
In a week where black churches are burning in the South…
In a month when a white supremacist murdered nine people and when he was picked up by police the next day, was escorted to jail in a bulletproof vest…
In a month where the white supremacist cell surrounding said mass-murderer was not investigated…
In the year where more than any other year, I see history repeating itself (lynchings, race riots, landmark moments of civil disobedience)…
I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate. I found myself meditating on the failures of America rather than its successes. That might not be fair of me, but so be it. I couldn’t do blind patriotism, not ever, but especially not this year. I couldn’t even buy in to the type of ironic ‘MERICA! patriotism that says “I’m not really participating in my country but look, here’s Ronald Regan riding a Utahraptor firing a machine gun.”
What is patriotism, exactly? Loyalty to a government? I don’t think so. That’s pretty much the opposite of what the Declaration of Independence states. Many of the anti-government groups active in the US right now are called Patriot Groups. Is patriotism more about supporting and loving your country or threatening your government if you don’t like their choices?
For the record, I have felt truly, properly patriotic twice:
1. Age sixteen, watching a parade down the Mall in London. Yes, this was patriotism towards Britain, a country I am not a citizen of. (…and a country that’s been the source of much incredibly destructive imperialism worldwide. I can somehow deal with the cognitive dissonance of being an Anglophile better than the cognitive dissonance of the fourth of July, though, so…??)
2. Age twenty-two, the AmeriCorps launch ceremony at Fischer Pavilion, reciting the AmeriCorps pledge*. National Service in general gave me more faith in this country than anything else I’ve seen or experienced. I wish those who work tirelessly to improve the basic welfare of some of the most vulnerable populations in this country received the kind of recognition and attention that those who do military service get. But that is another tale for another time.
I did find a couple of things to be glad of this month, in regards to my country:
1. The Supreme Court legalized marriage for all.
2. Bree Newsome enacted this century’s iconic civil disobedience by climbing the flagpole at the South Carolina courthouse and taking down the Confederate Battle Flag.
3. The USA won the World Cup of women’s soccer, with a frigging incredible hat trick (three goals in sixteen minutes) performed by Carli Lloyd and a couple of very solid saves by goalie Hope Solo. It was an incredible game, and for once I could be surrounded by people chanting U-S-A, U-S-A and not be creeped out.
So I suppose the essence of patriotism, or at least of my support for my country, comes when I see Americans doing great things to support and represent other Americans.
*It’s pretty good, for reals:
I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.