Saturday, July 3, 2010

Classic Post - What is Patriotism (It's Not About the Flag)

I have decided to repost some of my favorite posts from my old MySpace blog and put them here for any new readers I may have as well as for my own personal archives after I take the MySpace profile down. This is one of my favorites from the early days of my blog. The references here are rather dated, and fortunately some of the things I worried about in this post have not come to pass, but much of the sentiment behind this post still hold true for me.

With the 4th of July upon us and a buttload of Congressional Crap happening to try to distract the people of the US from Iraq, the economy, global warming, and education, the flag is on people's minds right now. Nearly a year after hurricane Katrina, its poorest victims are still struggling with poverty and homelessless. 2500 Americans have now died in Iraq. The weather is freakier than ever. The government tried to solve these problems by brining up a (failed) Amendment to the Consitution prohibiting flag burning.

Don't get me wrong. I am not someone who has any desire to willfully burn a flag, but I really think there is something wrong with giving the American flag so much power and prestige. I don't fly a flag. I don't put flag stickers on my car or wear flag pins. I don't have a problem with people who do, but I sometimes find flag-mania tacky. Why do we fly flags over every McDonalds? What other countries do this? Why do we need so many outward symbols for love of country? Why do we make children swear allegiance on a daily basis? Are we all that insecure about our love of country?

To me patriotism should never be wrapped up in outward symbols. Patriotism is something we have within us. I don't think it should be about what we show, but about what we do. By amending the Constitution to ban the burning of a piece of symbolic cloth, we undermine the exact thing the flag is supposed to represent. Yes, it's disrespectful and we shouldn't do it. But should we really create a Constitutional amendment around it when people in this country are dying at home and abroad, as if the country's flag were somehow more important than the country's people and it's established and respected laws? My friends, that is just wrong.

This morning, in honor of Independence Day, CNN had a poll asking viewers what they thought patriotism was. I did not respond to the poll, but I know what patriotism is to me. I'll discuss some examples.

A year ago I was listening to the Jerry Springer show (the Air America Radio talk show, not the trashy TV show) and Jerry asked listeners to call in and say what they loved about America. One caller, a lifetime member of the Sierra Club and the Green Party, gave a tearful call about how much he loved the natural beauty of the US. He lived in the west and talked about the beauty of the mountains. He said he would fight to preserve that beauty. Love of the land itself, and the determination to conserve it, is a great expression of patriotism to me.

During the 2004 Democratic Convention, Al Sharpton gave a beautiful speech (He may be a nutball, but what a powerful speaker) where he talked about the much-loved Ray Charles version of "America the Beautiful." Sharpton pointed out that Ray Charles was blind all of his life. He had never seen for himself the "purple mountains" or the "fruited plain". He was not singing for what he saw. He was singing about what he believed. While I don't always advocate blind belief in greatness (blind in the figurative sense anyway), I understand what was being expressed in that statement. We don't want to stop believing in our country's potential to be great.

True patriotism is exhibited by my friends who do the AIDS walk. Helping those less fortunate is a tremendous way to love your country. Love the people who live in it.

The same goes for those folks who are still working hard to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It's a tragedy that seems to be fading from the memory of many Americans. Kudos to those who try not to let us forget, and are still down there working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity in order to make sure that Louisiana doesn't become a gated community for rich folks and people have homes and a life again.

The people who hold bake sales and other fund raisers for our troops in Iraq so they can have body armor are true patriots. Also the folks who fight for proper veterans' benefits. No matter how you feel about this war or warefare in general, the people who fight them go through hell, and they do it voluntarily. They deserve every benefit that's coming to them, and they deserve to be properly equipped.

The teaching profession is a very patriotic one. Teaching is a thankless job at times and it gets harder every day to serve our students well. Yet few things are more important than education. Dedicated teachers, and those who fight for their benefits and the improvement of the educational system are true patriots.

Another example of a patriot is Cindy Sheehan and those like her, who make sure that someone is out there, questioning the government and their motives for sending our soldiers to war. I have heard few other people ever call this GWB quote into question: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as commander in chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency.' We need people out there, front and center, asking the questions that no one else will ask. Why are we really in Iraq? For what noble cause are our soldiers dying?

Patriotism is voting, and it's voting consistently, and it's getting involved in the process. Voting once every 4 years, and worse yet, voting third party because you think you're making a statement, and not because of the issues, is not patriotism. Most people vote third party because they resent only having two choices. Yet how many people actually get involved in the choices presented? If you want better candidates, then get involved. Decide what issues really matter to you. Identify those candidates that support those issues. Be willing to contribute your money or your time to their campaigns. Vote in the primaries. Yes, it means you'll have to join a political party, but if you're dissatified with the parties presented, your participation can help change it from within. Most of all, don't just vote every four years. Local elections often affect your daily life more than national ones. Take part in all of it.

What do I think patriotism is not?

Let's point out the old quote (often mistakenly attributed to Thomas Jefferson) "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism". Patriotism is not blindly accepting everything the government tells you, and swallowing every talking point, because that politician belongs to your political party. The Constitution is supposed to make sure that governmental power is always checked. We also want to believe in our politicians and that they will follow the Constitution and do the right thing. But even the members of our government are corruptible when they acquire power. Never questioning them is not always the way to make your country function. Some of the best things achieved in this country, from independence from Britian to universal voting rights, have happened because people went against the government.

Insulting, publicly trashing, and slandering those who oppose you without any honest debate (such as the likes of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and the Swift Boat Veterans) is not patriotism. We are all Americans, and in the end, share a common goal of making this country a better place to live. If you disagree with how that goal should be achieved, then let's discuss our reasons and figure out where our common ground lies. Why trash your fellow Americans who are doing what they are Constitutionally protected to do? You can't sling mud without getting any on yourself.

Patriotism is not just displaying flags and yellow magets. Symbols lose their power if you're not willing to stand behind them. What exactly are you doing for your country?

Patriotism is not assuming that everything that's wrong with this country is wrong because people don't follow your religion, or follow it in the same way you do. Good and bad people exist in all religions and all forms of belief. Automatically assuming that this is a "Christian Nation" and that it should be run as such, is a very exclusive way of running a country. Again, we are all Americans and we have a right to believe as we wish, as long as our beliefs hurt no one.(BTW, wearing a gold cross with your slutty dress doesn't automatically qualify you as a Good Christian.)

Patriotism is not killing or harassing those who say things or do things you disagree with. It's also not advocating the killing of those with whom you disagree. Whether it's assasinating Martin Luther King, or simply saying you'd like to assasinate Bill Clinton, you're not doing anything to support your country.

These past few days most of us have been eating lots of charred food (or in my case zeppoli - YUM!) and watching fireworks. We forget the reason for the season. I hope this humble blog will help all of us stop and think about what our country means to us and how we hope to keep it great. Let's go forward now with the determination to succeed.

Happy Fourth of July!

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