When we returned home on the 5th, I noticed that the usual small flags were littering Charbonneau. In the past, a local real estate agent has put these out, although this time it seems that perhaps a local scout troop had done it. I find this sort of thing annoying as well, largely because those who put the flags out don't come and pick them up again, meaning that they are litter. I have a problem with the flag being treated as litter, personally.
All of this got me thinking a little about patriotism and what it means. Like most important concepts, it's been co-opted for the benefit of one political party in the US, primarily the conservative wing. That's a shame, because we can all be patriots. Here's a list of what Patriotism is not as well as what it is, at least for me. Full disclosure - I consider myself to be a progressive/liberal, although my definition of what that is is nothing like what some on the far fringes of the Right would claim.
What Patriotism Isn't -
- Dressing like the flag.
- Shooting off fireworks.
- Wearing a flag pin.
- My country - right or wrong.
- Wearing a tri-corn hat.
- Screaming your opinion at the top of your lungs.
- Thinking that only one party or group has a lock on patriotism.
- Getting your information only from people who agree with you.
- Voting a particular way because your leaders tell you to.
- Name calling.
What Patriotism Is -
- Speaking your mind. Note that an uninformed opinion is less than useful.
- Voting with an informed opinion.
- Speaking out when your leaders take missteps.
- Engaging in informed debate.
- Understanding the issues of the day.
- Respecting our military personnel and their families. Thank them when you see them, even if you felt (as I did) that the US has made some very bad decisions in the past ten years regarding their deployment.
- Treating the flag with respect and not as a campaign tool.
- Understanding that all you are entitled to is Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. All of that stops when you pick my pocket or break my arm.
- Understanding that "freedom isn't free" means that *you* will be called upon to make sacrifices for the good of the country.
- Understanding that we live in a world with a lot of other countries and people, most of which are just trying to live out their lives as best they can, just like us. Sticking a label like Islamist on someone and assuming they are terrorists or an enemy is foolish at best, discriminatory at worst. You are also a citizen of the world, not just the US.
- Valuing your freedoms and your rights. Don't give them up just because you're frightened, you don't get them back all that easily. Ironically, witness the Patriot Act which still allows people to listen to every word you utter with no reason other than they want to.
I'm sure I can go on, but you get the picture. Patriotism is about being a good citizen. It is not about what you wear or how you vote. Patriotism is what we were taught in school, once you get past the pledge of allegiance - voting matters, let your representation know how you feel about issues, be aware and involved. Somewhere along the line people get the idea that it's more about conformity and nothing is further from the truth. Conformists would not have framed the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution. The fact that no government to my knowledge has the same form of representative government suggest that it is a very hard model to start and maintain, but we have done it more or less successfully for over 235 years.
Whether we will continue to do it is a very good question.
Enjoy your barbecues and bunting, your fireworks (performed legally), your flag pins in your lapels. But don't for a minute think that representative democracy requires anything more from you than that. Get mad, fight back, educate yourself, but also understand that there will be others who will do the same thing. As long as they are doing it in an informed manner, they are worth listening to and understanding. Like faith, unconsidered political life is not worth inflicting on anyone else.
And, because it bears repeating, I thank everyone who has, is, or is related to anyone serving in our armed forces.