Today signifies the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Across the country, Americans are donning red, white, and blue and brandishing their nation’s flags with pride. It’s a day to remember the history of America.
In these times, it’s easy to look at the United States with cynicism and hopelessness. These past few months have been tough for many of us, to say the least. But today serves as a reminder of the good.
Light cannot exist without darkness. Even amidst this rise of the alt-right, our democratic institutions still stand. The American government is designed to serve the needs of the people. A desire for representation was one of the primary motivations for American independence, and it shows in the lines of the Constitution.
Right now, every individual’s greatest weapon is knowing the rights afforded to the people by the US government. Read the Bill of Rights beyond the first amendment. Educate yourself in the process of elections on all levels. This has been a critical failing of the left; a liberal President is less effective when Congress is dominated by Republicans. Gubernatorial elections are no less important than federal elections.
The tools for change have been granted to us, secured by documents from centuries ago. This push and pull of progress is ingrained in our history. The ideals of the documents that forged this nation remain.
That being said, we can’t look at the democratic ideals of the past without addressing the parts of our history diametrically opposed to them. At the same time Americans cried for liberty, they put shackles on slaves and confined women to the home. Our demands for respect were in coexistence with the branding of Native Americans as uncivilized. The light of democracy has been present throughout our history (albeit often very dim), but it has always been clouded by oppression.
This is especially difficult to handle as the daughter of two immigrants. My parents left Pakistan in search of a better life in America. They want me to love this country as they do, and are acutely conscious of the many freedoms and opportunities given to me as an American that I would not have had growing up in Pakistan. This knowledge is what keeps me from looking at the country with complete cynicism. But, what does it mean to love one’s country?
To love something is to want it to grow. The best kind of love isn’t blind – it’s the kind of love that improves. It’s your mother urging you to try out for that sports team. It’s your best friend pulling you back when you go too far. It’s your sibling smacking you out of that foul mood you’ve been in all day and telling you to get up.
I’ve struggled for many years to do as my parents wish. When they tell me to love my country, I can’t help but think of all the dark. But, to love one’s country means to fight the bigotry and injustice in the land until you can look on your nation with unrestrained pride. So, this Fourth of July, show your patriotism with a call to your Senator or State Representative. Talk to Department heads, go to town meetings, attend a march for equality. Fight to keep the light alive.
Our democracy is dysfunctional as it is right now; misinformation is rampant and many of the people elected to represent the people no longer serve their constituents’ wants and needs. But, it is still a democracy, and if any hope is to be held of keeping it that way, we have to fight to put an end to the dysfunction, starting with H.R. 278, which seeks to put an end to gerrymandering.
Patriotism is more than singing the Star Spangled Banner under the fireworks. It is activism and political participation and knowledge of this nation’s history and all it encompasses – light and dark.