I cringed a little the first time I heard the word snowflake used to describe liberals. It was clearly meant to imply insignificance, and I heard it as such. And yet? I’ve grown to love it. Individually, snowflakes are, indeed, insignificant. They are also inexpressibly beautiful, and each one looks like a tiny miracle of mathematical precision. Collectively, they are the source of our water, the cooling of our globe, and an integral part of what makes the planet function. When snowflakes band together, everything changes: five minutes in a blizzard, or two seconds in an avalanche, is certainly enough to demonstrate that point. Individually, I am proud of myself and my unique human attributes, but collectively I know I am part of something strong and bold and much bigger than myself, and that we have the power to do just about anything if we harness that energy. Nobody has yet figured out how to stop a snowstorm.
As a self-labeled liberal, I have shied away from other labels as well. I have never labeled myself a patriot, and I’m not one to go around waving American flags. I have associated flag wavers with big trucks (and possibly small other things!), and worse, with an attitude that being ‘Murican means that might makes right, that bigger is better, that it’s all God and Guns (and how those two things might go together is a mystery I will never understand). That version of America horrifies me, and I’ve stayed away from its language. I have felt uncomfortable using the words Proud American or Patriot, uncomfortable with flag-waving.
But no longer.
Edward Abbey said, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government” and George Washington said “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” While the right has owned the language of patriotism for much of my life, the association of big trucks and big guns with the principles of patriotism is one that needs to stop right this minute, and it’s time for the left to rise up and take back their right to declare their patriotic devotion to America.
True patriots believe in what this country really stands for, and the right has been clever in co-opting that word. They have “owned” patriotism, and one of their criticisms of the left is declaring us unpatriotic, un-American, and cowardly in our lack of patriotism. We have bought into this, I am afraid, in our desire to be disassociated from their anti-regulation, pro-guns, white Christian centric policies. In our desire to be different from them, we ceded their right to the concept of patriotism, and with it, flags and other symbols of America.
But as for me, I’m taking it back. I am a proud American, a proud patriot, and I am prepared to defend my country….not by taking up guns or putting capitalism on a pedestal above all else, not by demanding that every citizen speak my language or practice my faith or wear their hair smooth and white, but by fighting to defend the very constitution that protects us with equal protection of the laws (14th Amendment).
There is nothing more patriotic than a Get Out the Vote campaign, or calling a senator. There is nothing more patriotic than speaking up for one’s beliefs about how the constitution should be upheld, and there is nothing more patriotic than speaking up against the wrongs of ones own government.
The Declaration of Independence declares:
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.
True patriots have not only the right, but the obligation, to speak up against destructive government that treats its people as less than equals. True patriots know that our inalienable rights are worth protecting, and that there are many ways to fight to protect them.
My weapon of choice is not a gun: I have no desire to take away another’s life. My weapons of choice are protest, the pen, and my telephone, and participation in our democracy by not only voting but by letting my voice be heard by the legislators who represent me. This is patriotism in action, fighting hard to create the kind of world that I believe in.
The right is able to paint themselves as defenders of the constitution because they are the ones most likely waving flags and declaring their love of all things American, and they have defined the public dialogue about what it means to be patriotic because of their love of the word patriot or patriotism. I suggest that it’s time that we take back this language, and that the liberal left rise up and declare their patriotism.
One Women’s March poster (by Shepard Fairey) included a Muslim woman with an American flag hajib:
This, I think, is the right approach. Rather than shying away from the words and symbols associated with ‘Murica, we need to take them back, and redefine them. The poster is powerful because is so boldly represents the antithesis of guns and trucks, while not shying away at all from patriotism. “We the people” are diverse, beautiful, and unapologetic for being who we are: our skin, our gender, our sexual orientation, and our religions do not influence our rights. Our differences are united by our love of our constitutional rights, by the foundations of democracy that grant us a chance at peaceful lives living in our communities.
I suggest that you take back the language of patriotism, and that you do so publicly. Declare on your Facebook page that your protests are for love of your country; label yourself a patriot. Don’t be afraid to fly our flag, to sing our songs. When you march in the streets, wave your flag, and declare your undying love for our Constitution. Don’t be afraid to point out unAmerican behavior: when the right tries to steal rights from people, point out where the Constitution grants those rights, and question their patriotism. Say, “That’s unconstitutional!” and “That is an unAmerican thing to believe” and “That is unpatriotic.” Declare your love of America and the freedoms it offers. Declare yourself a patriot: say it loud, and mean it. Look people in the eye, and make your declaration.
We are not on the defensive here. History has its eyes on us, and we are on the side of justice and truth. There is no alt-truth: this is the core foundation of Americanism, that we trust Honest Abe and believe in the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We do not lie, and this is at the core of who we are.
It’s time to stop being defensive, and to – emphatically but thoughtfully – go on the offensive.
We are the patriots. This country represents our ideals, and we are fighting for those ideals, for all of us. We believe in freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to be treated as equals under the law. We are a nation of immigrants, and our founders were not afraid to use scholarly language to create this great nation, and nor are we. Our arguments are strong, grounded in truth and facts, and we will not fall into the trap of logical fallacies as we make those arguments. Justice is on our side, so we will persevere.
So, go out into the world, proud of our nation, as we fight to defend it. We are a nation of immigrants and refugees, of rich and poor, of religions of all kinds (including non-religious). We have a right to be here, to speak up, and to defend those values. When we do so, we are the true patriots, and anyone who wishes to silence our voices is unAmerican.