Will the real patriots please rise?
Throughout each year and especially in July citizens of these United States of America proclaim love of country in a variety of visible ways, while in the same moment they may be exhibiting a lack of knowledge of American history by censoring actions and words others have chosen to exhibit affection for our country and the words we profess to live by.
Granted, my high school training in history and government was severely lacking in content and discussion meaningful to a teenager of the day. It was mostly lecture and rote response of dates and events rather than stories and examples that would move our thinking from certain details to the realities confronting the American people every decade since our Anglo ancestors removed independence and quality of life from the indigenous residents. Not an honorable beginning, but that’s history and what do we do with it once admitted? Why was there no real discussion of Hitler and the Holocaust in the days following World War II? Maybe because we had lived it. Likewise the later wars. Sudent history lessons, it seems, were mostly focused on winners and losers.
Numerous organizations and individuals claim patriotism. They vary from flag wavers and flag wearers to white supremacists bent on removal of non-whites from American soil. We can likely agree that the highest form of patriotism is military service. Somewhere in between the two extremes are the everyday folks who vote, willingly pay taxes, work on community-building projects, walk in protest marches and speak up when there is injustice afoot, priceless if unsung contributions to the greater good.
Organizations using the P word in their naming invite skepticism because with just a little investigation one discovers the patriotism claim is often a cover-up for strong biases that are in no way related to the Statue of Liberty’s "give me your tired, your poor, your restless refuse yearning to breathe free" (Emma Lazarus), nor to our complex Constitution. Consider those who publicly demonstrate their patriotism in surprising ways. U.S. Women’s Soccer team standout Megan Rapinoe and pro football player Colin Kaepernick come to mind with their passion in pointing to glaring faults in this country’s policies and attitudes.
Patriotism begins at home and in early schooling with attitudes as well as facts often found in memorable music. Children of all ages learn from singing, retaining melodies and lyrics forever. As the verses of “America the Beautiful” were sung at worship on the Sunday before July 4, I was reminded of the many lessons of that oft-forgotten American anthem.
It begins with recognition of the beauty of our country, followed by reverence for "heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life." The final verse bears repeating: "O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears! America, America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law." Unlike some patriotic songs this one is tuneful, clear and timeless in its message. Along with glorifying the country, the lyrics acknowledge tears of grief and flaws that many so-called patriots prefer to gloss over.
The soul of America is in jeopardy. Slavery was a flaw and those who supported it and still do must face up to that flaw and the error of those who fought to maintain it. Willingness to study and admit the flaws as well as successes is essential to making positive changes in our government policies and institutions.
Patriotism is more than once-a-year flag-waving. It is paying attention to how our representative government is behaving and using voice and vote to make change where change is needed. It includes participation in the work of creating healthy communities with schools that offer what the students need in ways that encourage attaining high ideals for themselves, their families and communities. And yes, it means sacrificing some portion of personal income to improve the lives of everyone, including others who come seeking safety and security.
Patriotism supports public services for the well-being and enjoyment of all who live in this country as well as defending people whose beliefs and practices may differ but fall within moral and legal limits.
Melinda Stibal lives in Coloma. Her email address is: email@example.com