This Fourth of July was certainly an interesting one. As a U.S. History teacher and costume aficionado, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be patriotic and how to express one's patriotism. How do we celebrate our country without the impulse of rank ordering? How can we be critical of our state, while demonstrating confidence in our government's ability to do better? Is it possible to show my love of country while expressing deep disapproval of the current state of affairs? All day, I kept wrestling with these ideas since we have recently embarked on a new era of reality show politics. I stop and shudder, thinking that this joke of a president will somehow follow a man of such great integrity in our historical narrative. How do, how will, we tell this story? I consider the long arc of history. I imagine how many people of color might feel on this holiday-mixed emotions; hopeful and resentful? In past few months, I have found solace in the historical record. I have kept coming back to Barbara Jordan's Nixon's impeachment trial speech when she said:
"We, the people." It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We, the people." I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We, the people."Today I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution."
If Barbara Jordan can have faith in this country and its government, I too can muster some faith that our institutions will withstand the current assault on our democratic principles. We must look to the people for hope.
After biking roughly 9 miles from Breckenridge to Frisco, I looked south and was shocked to see giant billowing smoke clouds from the mountain just across the ridge. My first thoughts were, "Why did I just now notice a fire of this enormity?", "How did we bike past that without noticing?", and "Is everyone safe?" Pedestrians and trafficked slowed in a already unhurried town to observe the disaster unfolding before us. Within roughly 10 minutes of noticing the towering smoke, I watched helicopters fly into the fire. Someone flew INTO THE FIRE, outfitted with slurry to slow the fire's progression. A few minutes later, we received reports about fire lines and evacuations in the area. One news report read, "8 smoke jumpers and 21 firefights from hot shot crews....have been mobilized." Twenty-nine people. Twenty-nine people: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and dear friends, have signed up to help others for a living. I'm not sure why I'm so struck by this every day fact, perhaps because the blaze was raging from an observable distance while I was calmly sipping a wheat beer with my sister and children-at a safe distance. This juxtaposition of proximity-to danger and safety-was not lost on me. I couldn't help but think of the brave men and women who choose to put out fires for living-to keep homes and more importantly, people, safe-- as the most deeply patriotic act of the weekend.
The every day patriotism people choose moves me. So many of us go to work on the behalf of others, even though we are not all equitably included in 'we the people'. We choose patriotism in our classrooms, in low-cost clinics, in the forests, in the arts...we, the people, choose to be faithful to our country and its people through our every day actions. We are not spectators, observing others' bravery, but working on the front lines to improve upon past mistakes. When I question myself celebrating my country despite her blemishes, Barbara Jordan inspires me to reconsider. We celebrate the work, the patriotic work, we do everyday to improve our country's complexion.