July 4th 2013: What It Means To Be Patriotic in 21st Century America

The 21st century information age has shredded the traditional definition of patriotism which says, "I stand with my country — right or wrong." Instead, since founding the nation, we have more explicitly championed the idea that patriotism means loyalty to a set of principles; ideal principles that not only ask, but demand for dissent, criticism, and an actively inquisitive body to challenge those in power who may violate those standards.

Today we technically celebrate the American Revolution, and more specifically, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. Yet our citizens still declare their patriotism even today through the same demands of social and political progress. During the Civil Rights movement within America, Martin Luther King Jr. said in a speech during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, "the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right."

When a group of conscientious citizens activate this patriotic (and human) right to voice an opinion, they embody that nation and can live and breathe the true definition of patriotism, regardless of any individual person's political or social affiliations. President Barack Obama said: "I have no doubt that, in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it ... Loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, our country will be stronger."

It does not matter how patriotism is celebrated, with salutes or beer or barbecue or visiting memorials, as long as it is recognized and profoundly appreciated for the value and power it holds as a vehicle for social progress rather than a dogmatic commandment for blind nationalism.

The time-honored symbol of the American people, history and ideals — the American flag — is not owned by the administration in power, but by the people; and these people use that symbol to stand for basic democratic values including economic and social equality, mass participation in politics, free speech and civil liberties, elimination of the second-class citizenship of women and racial minorities, and as a welcome mat for the world's oppressed people. Even with the dark realities that come with extreme corporate power, far-right xenophobia, and social injustice, the nation has called upon patriotism time and time again to overcome and achieve those fundamental moral principles we have so dearly held on to throughout history.

American movements — the abolition of slavery, farmers' populism, women's suffrage, workers' rights, civil rights, environmentalism, gay rights, and countless others — all hold very similar core human values of fairness, equality, freedom, and justice. All of these values have been adopted and championed as American ideals. While we may battle over the standards by which we achieve these values, every American, whether they vote red or white or blue, has an equal right and duty to claim their ideas and actions in search of these ends as their own.

Ultimately, it is these values that define patriotism. Not just American patriotism, but human patriotism. As long as we continue to challenge the betterment of our nation through our association with these philosophies, then together as a nation we can consider ourselves patriotic.

Happy July 4th.