I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service. —John F. Kerry
Budweiser is changing its name to America (though I’ve yet to see any of the new cans in stores). Coca-Cola is adopting new red, white, and blue cans. Americans never want to be accused of not being patriotic. We take our patriotism seriously, which is why we have days like Memorial Day. We are ingrained from our earliest points of education to appreciate the sacrifices others have made to give us the freedoms we have, even though we abuse those freedoms far too regularly.
Patriotism in the United States isn’t all that different from patriotism in other countries. Nationalism has been a thing around the globe since the mid-19th century. People everywhere wear clothing with representations of their country’s flag on it. Clothes coming from Milan proudly bear the Made in Italy label, and that label actually stands for something. The French are proud not only of their champagne, but their language and its contribution to the global vocabulary. When a Brazillian driver takes the lead at the Indianapolis 500, big green and yellow flags suddenly appear in the infield in a display of nationalistic pride and camaraderie.
Patriotism in the United States, though, may be louder than it is anywhere else. Not only do we find ways to include the red, white, and blue in almost everything, we include patriotic moments in almost all our events, from the singing of the national anthem to color guards and military fly-overs (which are damned impressive). We sing, “God Bless the USA,” and “God Bless America,” with fervor. We respect our troops (most of the time) and thank them for serving. And on special days like Memorial Day, we go out of our way to make sure our patriotism is on display.
Yet, real patriotism is not a sometimes thing. Patriotism doesn’t wait for a holiday or a special event. Patriotism doesn’t require special bunting or a red, white, and blue dress code. Patriotism doesn’t require fireworks or that one even own an American flag. Loving our country is more of an everyday thing, discernable in everyday actions, the way we speak, and the things we do. Being an American is more than celebrating a holiday.
Being in American is being a neighbor and caring for the people around you.
Being a patriot is understanding that we are not just one idea or concept, but a melting pot of many ideas and cultures and concepts, and celebrating those differences.
Patriotism is paying attention to and participating in the political system, not because it works the way we want, but because it fails completely if we don’t.
Being American means standing up to bullies; not only on a national front, but individually against bigots and xenophobes who would harm our fellow citizens.
Patriots understand that just because one has the right to do something does not always make the exhibition of that right appropriate, kind, or just.
Patriotism is standing up and being loud in the face of sexism, gender inequality, homophobia, social inequality, racism, body shaming, and any attempt to put down a fellow American.
Real Americans recognize that our country is far from perfect, that we’ve made some pretty egregious errors in the past, but are committed to not letting those mistakes happen again.
Real patriots don’t allow their elected officials to do nothing, to take more days off then they work, and still retain office.
Patriotism is understanding the power of volunteering, for military service, to support those who serve, to support those who have served, to care for those who return from service with impairments, to assist the families of those who serve, and to make sure no one is left behind even when they can no longer wear a uniform.
Americans do their best to make sure those who serve are not embarrassed by the country they represent, for it is our own actions more than their own that cause them disrespect.
Patriots vote without making excuses.
Patriotism is giving a shit even when everything around you seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.
We’ll see a lot of red, white, and blue today. We’ll see flags waving and numerous displays of nationalistic pride. But as we celebrate, may we never forget those who sacrificed in battle, those who continue to suffer after returning home, and those who fight, yell, scream, and argue to make sure the number of people who need to make that sacrifice grows smaller every year.
Patriotism is not a once-in-a-while thing. Patriotism is every day.