Progressives can love our country without loving the Empire built in our name; we can celebrate the day as a day of revolt against the rich and powerful.
Can progressives be patriotic? The short answer is: yes, but it really depends on how you define “patriotic” and “patriot”.
According to Merriam-Webster, “patriot” is “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.”
If that’s the definition we go by, then the answer is ‘no.’
So we need to redefine what “patriot” means in this new world of instant communications, of empire, tea parties, the Arab Spring, failing eco-systems, of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, of millions of unemployed, of ecological disasters that affect us all.
Many love our country and support its interests (which also needs redefining), but not necessarily its “authority.”
We believe that one can love one’s country and its peoples, and still be in solidarity with the peoples of the world, and have respect and love for our planet.
July 4th has many meanings to us now, two and a third centuries from its origins. Whether it’s BBQ’s or fireworks, many Americans simply take the day off as part of a three day weekend – as if ‘governments are instituted among men and women to grant us three day weekends in the course of human events.’
But it’s also the day that the American colonists declared their ‘right to revolution‘, and that all women and men are created equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Here is the text of the Preamble below – go ahead and read it:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
The next section includes a long list of charges against King George III, an account of the abuses that he heaped on the colonists, what he did in violating their rights and their assertion that he was therefore unfit to be their ruler, – which we will not repeat.
Without romanticizing our forefathers and foremothers of those colonial days – as it is true that some revolutionary colonists signed the Declaration with one hand while holding a bull whip against their slaves in the other, while standing on ground taken from the slaughtered Native Americans – we can still appreciate the positive qualities of their stand so long ago.
July Fourth celebrates the right of a people to rise up against an unjust ruler – as peoples are doing in the Middle East during this prolonged “Arab Spring”. We as progressives can certainly stand up for that.
And we can raise our thoughts – as the emphasis we place on these words now will probably not be made anywhere else this day – in admiration and appreciation and inspiration that those colonists chose a new system with a government which guaranteed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And it’s taken all those years since to figure out what these words mean.
Thus, we can assert that one can love her or his country, the actual countryside, the mountains, lakes, forests, deserts, canyons, the oceans, and – yes – even the cities. And we can do this while we continue to love and respect the entire planet, as we now understand that despite the separate little villages and nations on its surface, we only have one planet, and we must protect and preserve it. We now understand that one despoliation on the surface of this rare ball in space, affects the rest of us – as we just witnessed and experienced with the recent disasters in Japan.
And we can assert that one can love the many peoples that populate our country – the natives, the immigrants, the young people with hope, the older people with experience, the different tribes, nations, ethnic groups that settled here over the centuries. This love of our peoples begins with a deep respect for the Indians who were here before any others arrived from Europe, Africa or Asia.
This love of our own peoples is coupled with a strong, firm, stand of solidarity with the other peoples of the world. How can we respect and love our “own” peoples while not the earth’s peoples – as our people came from them. We can be in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, and working folk of every nation, even while we have abiding love of our own.
We can love our democratic principles, traditions, and history, realizing that there’s always been two Americas: one wanted to slaughter the Indians, the other wanted to learn from them and live in harmony with them; one side had slaves and the other side the abolitionists; one side wanted to invade and take over Mexico, the other rejected the Manifest Destiny and protested that war; one side had JP Morgan, the Rockefellers and the Pinkertons, the other had picket signs and hard-won unions rights. One side wanted to keep women tied to old traditions, the other side fought for women’s right to vote and be equal to men; one side wanted to keep Jim Crow, the other sat in lunch counters and went on Freedom Rides; one side wanted to prevent the so-called dominoes in Southeast Asia from falling, the other side protested in solidarity with the Vietnamese. One America went marching off to war with General Bush, the other America staged some the largest anti-war protests ever recorded. This is our history, schizophrenic as it is. Always divided – but with slow progress toward human rights for all.
The freedoms enunciated a couple of centuries ago, like freedom of press, of speech, of assembly – are truly great things, rights that people from all over the world strive for. These great ideas are losing their firmness in this country while they spread over the world.
We can stand for the interests of our country, if those interests are truly for peace, justice and prosperity for the peoples of the world. It’s in our country’s interest, for example, for the Arab Spring to reach its own zenith and stretch into Europe, for all peoples everywhere to have just and democratic governments. It’s in our interests for despots and dictators to be overthrown – even ones our empire paid, for autocratic bureaucracies and deadly militaries to collapse, for nations to realize that nuclear power plants harm the earth and the rest of us.
Finally, progressive patriotism absolutely rejects the patriotism of empire – for that is a false patriotism. An empire has been built in our name – and reflecting what empires have done throughout human history – this empire threatens the very democratic nature and fabric of what the colonists began on July 4th. We must end this dichotomy – of this empire and democracy – for there is little actual democracy left. We must bring an end to the empire and the over 700 U.S. military bases around the world.
Sure, we have benefited from this empire up to now, but look at our country now, my fellow progressive patriots.
This economy is not showering too many benefits currently, as our unemployment rate stubbornly continues to soar, as homes and mortgages are foreclosed, as shops and jobs are shipped elsewhere, as the ranks of the homeless grow, as new graduates have no where to look for employment, as extremists take aim at the rights and progress of half our people – women, as a New Jim Crow imprisons an entire section of our peoples, forcing more young African-Americans into jail and prison that are going to college.
As extremists tilt the country backward, free speech has been turned on its head, and our peoples are quickly losing these freedoms of speech and free elections, for now the very rich and their corporations have even more “rights” than our people.
Our peoples are suffering greatly from class oppression. And there are other Americans – the extremists – who plot and plan to make it even worse for those in the middle, working and poor sectors, pushing more and more sacrifices upon our people – while enhancing the lifestyles, private jets, and bank accounts of the very rich.
We therefore reject the hypocritical patriotism of the very rich and the false patriotism of those who, while waving the flag, preach to us to give up even more of our rights, so they can continue to rule us – without opposition coming from our midst. But no more.
The sleeping giant of the American peoples has been awakened – and we saw this in Wisconsin over the past months. What started there will continue to steamroll across the land – so let today be a day of celebration of the peoples’ revolt against the rich and powerful.
True patriots will no longer be silent in this land. Let today be a celebration of our unity, and especially our diversity of all the different human threads that make up our giant quilt.
And let it be a day we celebrate what’s left of our democracy and a day we undermine the empire. Just taking the time out to read this is one step. The next step is doing something about it.