Thursday, July 03, 2008

On Patriotism

I’ve always enjoyed The 4th of July: the start of summer in earnest; an opportunity for grilled food in somebody’s backyard; the challenge of coordinating a red, white & blue outfit that looks stylish instead of ridiculous; fireworks, I love fireworks; and, yes, a sense of patriotism, not a mindless rah-rah-America! kind of patriotism, but a palpable sense of pride and affection for my big, crazy country, a unique construct of remarkable personalities, high ideals and lofty promises greatly sullied by a checkered past, a surreal present and an uncertain future.

In the 60s and 70s, when I was actively working/ organizing against the Vietnam War and on behalf of civil rights, I felt like a genuine patriot – someone who loved her country enough to tell the truth about its shortcomings and work to help correct them. I never forgot that the Founding Fathers were elite, white, male slave-owners, or that we annihilated the Indians, or that women were disenfranchised citizens until the passage of the 19th Amendment gave us the right to vote in 1920, or that we have behaved like the stereotypical Ugly American in many other countries (especially small ones) around the world. But neither did I forget how physically vast and varied and beautiful this country is, or how ingenious and innovative we can be, or that we’ve also helped millions with our might and our money around the world.

Since the horrors of 9/11, the machinations of the Bush administration have shamelessly capitalized on that tragedy to deliberately undermine authentic democracy and replace vital longstanding rights, privileges and due processes with fear-based restrictions and other outrageous assaults on liberty. Shame on them – and shame on us for letting them get away with murder and abject insanity. Perhaps we can turn the tide in this election year. I sure hope so!

My politics have become more armchair and online than frontlines in recent years, but I still regard myself as a loyal American, frustrated by our passivity and materialism, but buoyed by our frequent decency, generosity and courage. And I’m still comforted by my memories of The 4th of July in years past, times in my childhood when my parents took me to the beach; the over-the-top Bicentennial in 1976; watching sweet, homemade parades in the small town in Upstate New York where my folks retired; Op Sail parties I gave here in the Tower in years when the Tall Ships, their sails aloft, sailed up and down the Hudson (and I still had an unobstructed view of the river, now long gone).

And times that I stood on city rooftops with friends watching fireworks and feeling like a kid, an American kid, a kid who attended a public elementary school where we had weekly Assembly with a flag-bearing Color Guard and recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang My Country `Tis of Thee and it all seemed grand. I don’t know yet if I’m doing anything tomorrow (although I’ve already planned possible outfits), but I’ll spend the day feeling pretty good about being an American – and being determined to keep on speaking out about where we’ve gone wrong.

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