By Linden Goff
America was born out of protest. The country would not exist as we know it without protest. The Declaration of Independence is a long list of grievances, centered around the oppression and unjust actions of the English government. In 1776 there was no American flag, no American national anthem. All America had was this one precious document and the promise of a new country and a new future founded upon the truth that “all men were created equal” and that there existed the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is nothing else more sacred and more important to our national identity than these values.
However, the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and later in the Constitution, such as freedom, justice, and equality, are conceptual and ineffable; they are not physical objects. That is why we have the flag and the national anthem, to create a material representation of these things. The reason the flag and the national anthem are important to us is because society gave to them the symbolic meaning of freedom, justice, equality, and also the many other American values. True patriotism is not born out of blind allegiance to the flag and to the anthem without understanding and striving for the values the flag and anthem symbolize. A person is not a patriot and does not respect America merely by standing with their hand on their heart during the anthem. It is through the values a person lives by which determines whether or not they are a patriot. There are often American flags flown at KKK rallies, this does not make Klansmen patriotic Americans. It is uncontroversial for me to say that their hateful, racist ideology is offensive and thoroughly against all American values. A true patriot lives a life upholding freedom, justice, and equality. A true patriot is not afraid to criticize their country when the country is not living up to its own standards. A parent can love their child and tell it off when they have done something wrong. Likewise, a person can love their country and make a stand when they see something that they do not believe is in line with the country’s values. America has never been a perfect country, we will be forever stained by terrible events in our history. But a patriot knows that every day we must work as a country to take one step closer towards the fulfillment of our founding vision for all people. It is not always easy and it is not always pretty. But that is the mark of a deep and true love of one’s country, far more than the symbolism of standing up for the national anthem. You can demonstrate your patriotism through this symbolism, but in of itself this does not make you a patriot.
When the Military enlist they do not swear an oath to protect and defend the flag or the national anthem. They swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. The Constitution that specifically protects freedom of speech and peaceful protest. I cannot imagine anything more disrespectful to the military than the violation of the values they swore to protect through the suppression of Constitutional rights. Our American heroes sacrificed themselves in France fighting Fascism, in Vietnam fighting Communism, and in Afghanistan fighting terrorism. These are all ideologies which demand blind and unwavering loyalty, prohibit freedom of speech, and punish political protest. They fought and they continue to fight in order to spread freedom and to banish this oppressive evil from the earth. They did not fight and die so that in America the very same suppression of freedom could prevail. They fought and died so that others could enjoy the same glorious freedom of expressing one’s mind when they believe something is wrong, of expressing one’s beliefs without fear, and of standing in front of a flag, not because they are forced to or coerced with the threat of punishment, but because they want to.
Bending the knee before the flag does not make you love this country any less. Availing yourself of your Constitutional rights does not make you any less of a patriot. In fact, protesting injustice and asking America to do better is the full realization of our founding values. You may not like the way in which these players protest, you may not believe in the issue of they are protesting. But whether they are right or wrong with their method and message, it is undeniable that they are motivated by the desire to make this country more free, more just, and more equal. This is the highest form of patriotism. This is what America is. This is what our military fights for. This is what we all should work for in our lives every single day.
So please, do not burn your Ravens jersey and denounce the team. Be an American patriot who loves this country beyond just respecting the flag and anthem. Ask yourself what do you do to strive for American values in your life? How can you be better at fulfilling the promise of America? What can you do to create freedom, equality, and justice in our country? It is only through asking these questions do we live up to the sacrifice of our military heroes and the vision of our Founding Fathers.
Editor’s note: Mr. Goff is a resident of Cambridge.