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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

We must all be patriots to the cause of a just America

The highest form of patriotism is rooted in positive change, not tacit acceptance.

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American patriotism is a fraught concept. It often evokes images of the stars and stripes, which, in recent years, have become tied to people such as the so-called “QAnon Shaman” who sported red, white and blue face paint while storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Meanwhile, “patriotic education,” which is in actuality a white-washing of American history, has been pushed by conservatives in response to the long overdue acknowledgment of the impact of slavery and systemic racism in public school education. As for what is considered unpatriotic, star quarterback Colin Kaepernick was effectively blacklisted from the NFL — a uniquely American institution — for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against Black Americans.

Is this what patriotism is? An attempt to tear down our democracy? The refusal to acknowledge our nation’s past sins? Blind allegiance to the “Star-Spangled Banner?” Is it about returning to a storied past, or building a better future for all Americans?

There are two stories of American patriotism. As Ben Rhodes, former speechwriter to President Barack Obama, explained in his 2021 article “This is No Time for Passive Patriotism,” Obama worked to “tell a really good story about America.” This story presented the fight to better our country as part and parcel of being American, rather than as an unpatriotic act. This is exemplified by his campaign slogans  “Yes we can,” “Hope” and “Change we can believe in,” which highlight progress and betterment in sharp contrast to President Donald Trump’s rear-view slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Obama’s story of our country is the one I’d rather tell my children.

Merriam-Webster defines a “patriot” as someone who loves and supports their country. I love and support the U.S.; the place where I was born, raised and recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Last semester, I studied abroad in London and loved everything about it. Yet, I could never move there, because I love my own country too much to ever leave it. This love, however, does not mean that I accept America’s deeply entrenched issues. 

I believe deeply in the values that America was founded on. Whether it is the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal,” or the Statue of Liberty’s famed inscription “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the symbols of America highlight the power of our freedom and diversity. Even so, we’ve failed to live up to its promises of equality — Black Americans face disproportionate rates of police violence and incarceration as a result of systemic racism, LGBTQ+ Americans lack equal rights in many states and abortion is not protected at the national level, to name just a few of these pitfalls.

Yet the history of the U.S. is a history of change. Our founding fathers, despite their rhetoric of equality, were largely enslavers, racists and misogynists. They committed brutal — genocidal — atrocities against Indigenous Americans, atrocities we have yet to atone for. However, through pointed action and the framework the founding fathers left us, we have since abolished slavery, given women the right to vote and passed civil rights legislation and marriage equality. Our diversity and democratic ideals have been our power time and time again, allowing us to realize a better America.

I know the recent backsliding on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights is disheartening. Our least democratic political institution, the Supreme Court, has been weaponized by politicians who represent a minority of Americans. But, if you are one of the many liberal-leaning students at this university who has written off America as unsalvageable, I implore you to be a patriot. The most beautiful thing about our country is that we have the capacity to change it. Americans have long fought and died for this right. It’s inherent in the democratic ideals we claim to represent and uplift in the world.

Think about one issue that cuts you to the core — whether it be gun violence, climate change or any other — and take action. Vote for representatives that inspire you at every level of government. Call your current reps and demand the changes you seek.  

Leading up to the 2024 elections, we must organize, advocate and educate to build the America we want to see. We have to put in the work as citizens to achieve “a more perfect union,” one where liberty and justice for all Americans is a reality, rather than a pipe dream. There is nothing more patriotic.