The meaning of "patriotism" has completely changed from the days of Nathan Hale's proclamation. I see it now, through the eyes of most Americans, as hanging out the flag on July 4th, cheering at the moving stanzas of "The Star Spangled Banner," and proclaiming that America is #1.
My neighbors across the street leave a flag up all year long. However, they never vote, when voting is one of the most patriotic actions anyone can take--even when the odds of winning are impossible.
Although "The Star Spangled Banner" is a moving song, it happens to be about war. And this nation has come to represent war and aggression in the world. I still put my hand over my heart during "The Star Spangled Banner," but it is with a silent prayer that our image will change to a culture of peace and one that heals and feeds the world, not one that destroys it. To me, patriotism is to make one's country a noble country, one that is good from the heart of it. One that can defend itself in time of need; but not one that invades and conquers, killing millions of innocent people.
Like football teams, who yell "We're number #1!" after a game, many so-called "patriotic Americans" do the same thing. We are, in fact, behind other countries in many ways--in education, in medical care, in helping the poor. A true patriot is one who is truthful to oneself and others about the state of one's country, does not give the country away to those who already have, but focuses on repairing the areas that need repair the most and on giving to the people who need help the most. In our current narcissistic society, we cannot always count on neighbors helping neighbors, like we once could.
At the moment, I think Samuel Johnson's view is correct in that we cannot count on our Congress, which is--with no doubt in my mind--the very least patriotic group in America. Patriotism does not mean "self-serving," "power mongering," or "propagandizing." It means a sincere effort to meet the most urgent needs of the neediest of the country--and not the other way around, by starting at the top.
For expressing my views, I have had people come into my yard and key my car, write on my bumper stickers. I have had a policeman in Alabama to stop me and question my bumper stickers; I have been purposely run into by a young man in a truck who did not like my opinions. I think I am a patriot for expressing what I think and feel about my country. I do not believe the people who would censor my feelings and thoughts are patriotic. They are not only hurting one individual; they are in direct violation of my rights, according to the Constitution of the United States of America. A true patriot lives by this law of our land, whether he or she likes the law or not. If not, a patriotic person will set out by due process to change the law.
In my view, real patriotism--other than the flag-waving, emotion-stirring, or gingoistic "follow me into war" kind--is close to dying out in America. Without voting, without becoming a nation that heals instead of kills, without working for our neediest, first, instead of our richest and strongest, and without closely reading and following the law of the Constitution, our country will inevitably fall.
I fight for the civil rights of others, I vote, I do not attempt to silence those in opposition to my opinions, I teach tolerance, I work for clean air and water for all, and I do what I can to give to the poor--even though I, myself, am on the edge of "poor." I am not a flag-waver. I am a patriot. Or else, I am just a flawed human being, like everyone else, struggling to do what I think is right, compassionate, and just.
Causes Bonnie Roberts Supports
The Southern Poverty Law Center, The National Resource Defense Council, The ACLU, Doctors without Borders, Save Darfur