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When I was young – a teenager, not a child – I loved the idea that on the 4th of July, people all over the country were doing similar things: having a barbecue, watching fireworks. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of community – I think it’s the thing we are ultimately seeking in our lives – and that image of coming together and celebrating something on the same day appealed to me: we were sharing something with strangers we’d never know. 

I didn’t understand, then, about the myriad ways Americans celebrate or don’t feel compelled to celebrate at all; I didn’t understand that we experience this country very, very differently because of our race, religion, economic status, place of birth, family of origin, and more. I didn’t understand that the traditional 4th of July celebrations were lovely, but ultimately a lot of pomp and circumstance rather than substance. 

My notions of such things were vague, back then. Now, they’re more well-formed. I think there is a lot of false patriotism today; maybe there always has been.

In my eyes, to be patriotic means fighting for the ideals of this country; it means standing up for the people and the land of this country. 

For instance, the well-sowed seeds of racism bloom wildly and yet we don’t see Jayland Walker and understand that his death, his murder, was sanctioned by a system that oppresses, rather than uplifts.  When that happens – and it does happen, again and again and again – our country fails itself, fails to become what we could become. 

Protesting that reality then becomes our obligation; that is true patriotism.

When the Supreme Court strikes down a 50-year-old precedent that even then was belated in recognizing bodily autonomy in half the population, we should protest. When they reduce the power of an organization tasked with protecting the environment, we should protest. 

When there is a shooting – at a grocery store, at a place of worship, at a school, at a parade in the Midwest on the very day we profess to celebrate freedom – we must recognize that we have chosen to live in a war zone. It is that which we should protest. 

Standing up for the ideals, people, and land of this country: that’s what this day should be about. It isn’t about putting on certain colors; it isn’t about eating burgers and corn. Traditions are lovely and I support them, but doing those things and stopping there, enjoying the decorations of this custom without engaging in the work this country demands of us, is a sham. 

Today I skipped the parade in town. Today I donated to another abortion fund. Today I wrote postcards to encourage people to vote. Today I loved my family and my friends the best that I could. 

There is much to be grateful for in this country, but I am not blinded by it. The flaws in our system exist to separate us, to keep us apart from one another, to keep us siloed and thinking that we can’t work together. 

We should demand better of ourselves and of our government. We are full of possibility but we are constantly, forever, hampered by the lack of our own accountability, our own apologies, our own amends. 

And this 4th of July, it seems that those limits are what we should protest. We are capable of so much more.

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