Patriotism is a very serious value to many people in the United States, especially during Fourth of July weekend. For me, it’s hard sometimes to be extremely proud to be an American when I disagree with many of my country’s decisions. Our involvement in the Middle East and our contribution to global warming are not all that postive. And on top of that, to many of my Native American friends, July 4th signifies a time of brutal assimilation and destruction of their culture. When I consider all these things, I’m not exactly eager to go out and shout in the streets, “Proud to be from the U.S.A.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely thankful for all that I have been given living in this nation, and I certainly am proud of many people from my country. But there are some caveats to my patriotism. I’ve realized that if we value only people or things that somehow represent “American” (or whatever it is that is associated with our nation), we tend to put up boundaries and reject others. While it is important to celebrate our roots and where we come from, we should be open to difference and not exclude others.
For this Fourth of July weekend, rather than promoting negative perceptions of America, I want to show pride in the many people, historical and contemporary, who live in the United States and do amazing work. I’ve realized I have a lot of people to be thankful for, and I feel most patriotic by celebrating their contributions.
These are just a few of the many people who have contributed greatly to America and to humanity:
American author Henry David Thoreau wrote beautiful essays, poems, and other writings such as Walden and “Civil Disobedience.” Through both his writing and actions, this 19th century figure advocated simple living and appreciation for the environment.
Frederick Law Olmsted is a 19th century U.S. architect and journalist who was famous for designing urban parks and for spreading anti-slavery sentiment across the Northeast. His numerous contributions across the country, including Central Park in New York, have helped instill appreciation for the natural world in an urban setting. Additionally, Olmsted co-founded the progressive magazine, The Nation.
David Brower, a 21st century environmentalist, worked together with others to create several organizations including Sierra Club Foundation and Friends of the Earth, and campaigned against nuclear power and the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Dolores C. Huerta, a tireless immigrant-rights activist and slow-food advocate living in California, constantly inspires farmers in the United States to organize and reinvest in more natural food harvesting. She co-founded the United Farm Workers of America.
In addition to these historical and current heroes and heroines, I have noticed more and more young people showing interest in environmental and social justice. An online survey affirms this trend: 61 percent of 13-25-year-old Americans feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world, 81 percent have volunteered in the past year, and 83 percent will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible. The report also suggested that feelings of social and civic responsibility among in-coming college freshmen are at the highest level in twenty-five years.
The change in young people’s values is making an impact in the corporate world, as well. Many new companies are promoting ethical and environmental products. Search for U.S. made, sweat-shop free, organic goods, and you’ll find many companies such as EVO’s apparel and Organic Caboose‘s essentials for babies and moms. And these ethical companies aren’t limited to clothing merchandisers. Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA boxes, provide consumers with ultra-fresh fruits and vegetables and also help out local farmers. Focusing on these companies and people can lead us to a more positive and green patriotism.
In the spirit of these companies and people, consider this July 4th a day to celebrate not just independence, but also interdependence. Interdependence emphasizes not only original thinking but also community and interconnectedness. This idea recognizes that we are all reliant on one another, and that by working together with our fellow humans, we can create a peaceful and harmonious world. William James, an American psychologist and philosopher from the late 19th century, has a great quote that helps point out the importance of both individuality and community: “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”
This holiday weekend, take time to reflect on the importance of individuality and community. Be sure to honor our fearless foremothers and fathers. Recognize and thank someone in your community who is working together to promote positive change. Support businesses made of diverse, beautiful, and socially conscious American workers. And celebrate all the amazing people in your life, regardless of their geographical affiliation.