Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July Deep Patriots!

I wonder if any of you, like me, have ever cringed on a day like this because the kind of patriotism espoused has been co-opted by what Van Jones calls "the cheap patriots." You know, the kind that thinks its all about wearing a flag on your lapel. Or worse yet, the kind that wants to "take our country back" to the days where skin color, gender, and sexual orientation were determinants of who belonged and who didn't.

If so, please take a few minutes today to watch what Van has to say about deep patriotism - the kind that isn't just about freedom, but about "freedom and justice for all."

We're more than our founding reality. We also had a founding dream.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal." And the story of America is the story of a people - an imperfect people - struggling day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and now century after century to bring that unequal founding reality closer to that beautiful founding dream.

That's why Barack Obama titled his speech about racism A More Perfect Union.

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union ..." — 221 years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars, statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least 20 more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution — a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty and justice and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part — through protests and struggles, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience, and always at great risk — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

Jack White agrees.

What, to a black American in the age of Barack Obama, is the Fourth of July? I answer: the day that reveals to him, more than any other, how much America owes to blacks and their struggle for freedom. If it hadn't been for people like Frederick Douglass, this would not be a country worth living in. The lofty ideals of the Founding Fathers would have been no more than stirring but empty rhetoric...

Most of us...yearn for the day when July Fourth does not invite the ambivalence we are feeling this weekend. We long for the day when we can cherish the country we love without feeling torn by the two-ness that W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about in The Souls of Black Folk. And just as Douglass accurately prophesied the death of slavery in his famous speech, that day is coming. It's coming because of the determination of true patriots, of all races, who believe in the Founding Fathers' beautiful promises more than the Founding Fathers did. It will be our birthday present to America.

Here is that gift demonstrated in pictures and song.

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