Progressive Patriotism (Or, five things this liberal loves about America)

“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Though often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, the phrase actually came about as a slogan of the anti-war left during the Vietnam War. Since then, it has been invoked by countless Americans, including myself, who work tirelessly to make our country a more perfect union.

There’s this misconception that those of us who struggle for LGBT rights, the end of white supremacy and systemic racism, and the dismantling of patriarchy, are unpatriotic or anti-American. It’s unfortunate that when we ask our country to live up to the ideals it purports to be founded upon we are labelled traitors, but it’s also somewhat understandable. I spend a lot of time talking about what I don’t like about the USA.

Today is not one of those days.

Instead, below, in no particular order, are five things I—a progressive who dreams of socialised medicine and wealth redistribution—love about these United States.

  • Social justice: From Seneca Falls to Haymarket Square, from Little Rock Central High School to the Stonewall Inn, whether suffragists, organised labor, abolitionists, anti-war protestors, or those marching for gay liberation in the 1970s, we stand on the shoulders of giants. When I think of these brave people, like Alice Paul, who was tortured in jail for believing that women should have equal access to the ballot, or Diane Nash, who became one of the unsung leaders of the Civil Rights Movement at the ripe old age of 20, or Sylvia Rivera, a trans woman and trailblazing LGBT rights activist who helped found the Gay Liberation Front and was instrumental in the Stonewall Riots, I’m reminded that our American story is a story of everyday people taking a stand against injustice. Things we take for granted today (women voting, desegregated lunch counters, an eight hour work day, Ellen Degeneres) are all possible only because our foremothers and forefathers sacrificed, fought, and died to make them a reality.
  • The Bill of Rights: I don’t think we always get this right (like when we ignore the “well regulated militia” bit of the Second Amendment), but our Bill of Rights—the first 10 amendments to the US constitution—are truly a watershed document in the evolution of liberty and human rights. I’m glad that we live in a country where I can loudly and boldly criticise my government, where Muslims can build a mosque in Murfreesboro whether the rednecks like it or not, and where homophobic bigots can openly proclaim their hatred for me without being arrested for hate speech (ahem, Britain). While it’s true that we don’t always live up to these ideals, and some conditions (like white privilege) may apply, the document itself, as well as our collective desire to abide by these basic principles, was and is truly revolutionary.
  • American music: It’s hard to go anywhere in the world and not hear hip-hop. Black Americans invented that. It’s hard to go anywhere in the world and not hear rock. Black Americans invented that, too. Adele’s 21 was basically wholly inspired by her heartache and the music of the American south, from blues to country to jazz to rock. From George Michael to Gangnam Style, the American influence on global pop culture is undeniable.
  • Southern cooking: I was raised on grits and gravy and biscuits, and I’m all the happier for it. Give me collard greens or give me death, I say. Cornbread, ham hock, macaroni and cheese, mashed taters, chicken and waffles, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Whether at a fish fry, a pig pickin’, or a barbecue, Americans know how to feed you right.
  • Sports: Y’all. There is nothing more fun than tailgating before a football game, especially at a school in the south. Some of my fondest college memories involve copious amounts of alcohol consumed on the bed of a pickup truck in between games of cornhole or horse shoes. Baseball games are equally as fun. There is nothing more American, or more relaxing, than going to a ballpark and getting full on overpriced beer and bratwursts. If you’re not slurring your way through “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” you’re not doing it right. And unlike in many places (read: most of Europe), our sporting events rarely devolve into violence between opposing fans. We take sportsmanship as seriously as we take our sports, and that is truly awesome. And unlike soccer—and yes, I’m calling it soccer today—there’s no crying in baseball.

Patriotism is personal. American means different things to different people, but one thing we must stop doing is assuming that our political opponents don’t love their country. Women and men across the political spectrum have given their lives so that we may live in liberty. So this Independence Day, I call upon those of us on the left to reclaim patriotism and talk about what we love about this country. I’ve given you a few things that make me proud to be an American. Leave yours in the comments below.

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