Protest is Patriotism

Protesting is as American as the Boston Tea Party.  The First Amendment to our Constitution includes the rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to petition our government for redress of grievances.  That sounds like a pretty good description of a protest march like the Women’s March in Knoxville which I attended today.

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Dictionary.com defines patriotism as “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.”  Today’s pre-march ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance.  Many marchers carried American flags.  (I heard one of them expressing concern about whether it was disrespectful that his flag was getting wet in the rain.)  

Can I rage for a second here?  Protesting is NOT whining, it’s NOT being a sore loser, and it’s certainly NOT unpatriotic.  People gather in peaceful protest BECAUSE they love this country, because they believe in its ideals, and because they want it to be better. (Our new President has spent the past two years talking about how terrible this country is and how we need him to make it great again.  Was that unpatriotic?)

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On January 27, 2017, pro-life marchers will gather in Washington to voice their disagreement with this country’s abortion laws.  These marchers want abortion legally banned.  They disagree with Federal, State, and local laws allowing abortion and deplore Supreme Court decisions which have upheld those laws.  They believe in the ideals of this great nation–the ones guaranteeing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–and that they should apply to everyone, born or unborn.  They think the United States of America can and should be better.

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I’ve participated in more local Marches for Life than I can recall.  I’ve slogged through rain and biting cold on behalf of the unborn.  (I’ve also marched against the death penalty, for what it’s worth.)  So I think that gives me the moral authority to tell you that the only difference between marching today and marching next weekend is what participants are protesting.

Women (and lots of men!) marched today to protest potential policies of the incoming administration, based upon the political promises of the President.  They marched for many reasons: for healthcare, for equal pay for equal work, for compassion toward immigrants and refugees.  And they also marched against things:  sexual assault, discrimination, prejudice, hatred.

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“Give him a chance,” people say.  “He hasn’t done anything yet.”  All the more reason for us to stand up now, before he has a chance to implement any policies, to assemble and use our right to speak freely and let him know how his proposals will grieve us!  Why wait to protest until after the fact?

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September 11: Remember the Love

Everyone who’s old enough to remember has a 9/11 story.  Mine is probably fairly typical of those of us with no personal connection to the events, and I’ve never written about it because it feels too much like trying to hop on the tragedy train in order to capitalize on the pageview potential.  But on this 15th anniversary I have some reflections I feel compelled to share.

My memories of that day are fragmented.  I was standing in my sunny yellow kitchen, chunky six-month-old William on my hip, when the phone rang–my husband, telling me to turn on the television.  A couple of hours later I picked him up at his downtown office and we went to lunch–at the top of the tallest building in Knoxville, which I remember feeling nervous about.

In the lobby of the building they were selling extra editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel, something so out of the ordinary that it was frightening.  We were all so desperate for news and there was no Twitter or Facebook to provide the instantaneous updates we’ve come to expect when a crisis strikes today.

On the elevator ride up to the 27th floor two men in business suits were discussing a mutual acquaintance whose son was in one of the towers.  At the time everyone still hoped he would be found alive.

I was worried when it was time to pick up the kids from school.  What did they know? What would I tell them?  Emily was ten and already knew.  Jake and Teddy were six and seven.  I remember at first just telling them that some bad people had done a very bad thing.  Because of my kids, I did not obsessively watch the television coverage for days as so many did.  I did not want them to see the towers falling.

The house we lived in back then was in a flight path.  We were accustomed to hearing noisy airplanes on their descent approach.  For the next few days, it was eerily quiet.  Once we heard an airplane and we all ran outside, terrified, to see a military plane overhead.  We were all on edge.  For some time after 9/11, loud noises made me jump.

Flash forward to the 10th anniversary, September 11, 2011, five years ago.  Six days out from our own personal tragedy, we were homeless–John and I and the little kids living with my sister Betsy, Emily away at college, Jake and Teddy staying with school friends, even our dog being farmed out to my other sister.  We had lost just about every material possession.  I didn’t have the emotional energy to think about 9/11.  I remember writing on Facebook that I felt guilty posting about our circumstances with all the posts about the anniversary reminding me that our tragedy was small by comparison.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a fixture in our society, the way most of us keep in touch,  read news, express our feelings on matters both personal and political.  I can’t help but wonder how our experience of 9/11 would have been different if Facebook had existed back then.  I know that in the case of our September 2011 disaster Facebook was how we shared the news and received encouragement and help.  This year, on the 5th anniversary of the fire, I was looking forward to seeing those old posts in the “On This Day” feature that Facebook helpfully notifies me about first thing each morning.  I braced myself a little because those memories are painful, but recalling the support of friends, family, and acquaintances is uplifting.

Imagine my surprise, then, that even though five years ago I was posting about nothing but the fire and its aftermath for probably two weeks, my Facebook memories are a cheery collection of memes and articles and comments from every year but 2011.  Facebook has apparently decided without any input from me that the events of September 2011 are too traumatic and I couldn’t possibly want to revisit them.  Presumably if 9/11 had occurred in the Facebook era, it would also be scrubbed from everyone’s “On This Day” feature as something too dark to recall.

And while I am in awe of Facebook’s algorithms and appreciate their intent (as I know people in particular who have been blindsided by unexpected and unwanted visceral reminders of such events as the death of a child), I don’t WANT to forget September 2011.

I don’t particularly want to remember the sight of my burned down house and the destruction of all my treasured possessions, but I do want to remember the offers of shelter, the months of meals, the clothes and toys and gift cards, the love and the prayers.  I won’t forget them, not ever, but I also like seeing them on Facebook.  It’s worth seeing the pictures to see them, and the pictures provide the context for appreciating them.

Today my newsfeed is flooded with “We Remember” and “Never Forget” memes.  Some show the Twin Towers in ruins, some show them intact, bathed in heavenly light.  I’m sure when some people say they won’t forget they mean they won’t forget the terrorists, the hated enemies who committed this vile and cowardly attack, the outrage of being attacked on our own soil.  Our country has changed since 9/11 and I don’t think it has changed for the better.  We have become an angrier country, a frightened country, a deeply divided country.  That’s not the America I love and that’s not what I want to remember about 9/11.

What I want to remember are those who gave their lives in service to others, the way foreign countries rallied around us, the incredible feeling of unity as Americans.  And what struck me most at the time and remains with me now and what I want to remember most of all is the same thing I want to remember about September 2011:  the love–that when people were afraid they were going to die, the last thing they did if they could was call their spouses and parents and children, to say I love you just one last time.

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I Hear America Crying

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

                  — Walt Whitman
We heard America singing–for real–last Thursday at the Spring Concert at Lorelei’s school.  I’ve endured attended countless plays, pageants, and concerts in my 21 years of parenting, but this one stands out.  In between renditions of our National Anthem and Yankee Doodle (that was Lorelei’s class) and other patriotic songs enthusiastically performed by cute kids and accompanied by hand gestures, we were treated to proclamations of the Gettysburg Address, the First Amendment to the Constitution, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and other words that symbolize what America stands for.
“I’m American, you’re American!” sang the children, and they were the melting pot personified up on the stage.  No one needs to preach diversity when you can see it right in front of you.  There is no better explanation of what it means to be an American than to see the great-grandchildren of slaves standing on a stage with white kids whose ancestors  probably landed two hundred years ago along with more recent arrivals from Asian and Latino countries, all of them smiling and singing in English “This land is my land.”
So with a happy tear in my eye I went on to my next engagement, a meeting of my book club at which we watched the famous movie adaptation of our most recent book, To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s so easy, watching this vivid reminder of the dark history of race relations in the South, to feel complacent about how far we’ve come.  My older daughter attends college in Mobile, Alabama, and of course her classmates are as diverse as Lorelei’s are.  Twenty years ago, the sight of an interracial couple walking down the streets of Knoxville would make you look again.  No longer. 
But the human heart is a dark and secret place, and prejudices still lurk there.  All Tom Robinson’s troubles started, remember, when he walked past a white woman’s house.  And look what happened to Trayvon Martin, who had the gall to “walk while black” through a mostly white neighborhood.  That he had the legal right to be there, that he was actually a guest there, didn’t matter to a man who saw only the color of his skin and made predictable assumptions thereupon.
Prejudice against certain immigrant communities of the past, like the Irish and the Italians, may have died out, but there are new immigrants to take their place as the targets of our collective suspicion.  Just yesterday I heard someone talking about “all these people with their strange religions” coming in and changing our country which was “founded upon Christian principles.”  Religious freedom is one of the bedrocks upon which this nation was founded, actually.  And what is the Number One Christian Principle if it’s not “Love one another”?
At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout walks Boo Radley (surely the personification of the hated and feared “other”) back to his house.  She stands on his porch and realizes that she had “never seen [the] neighborhood from this angle . . . [Atticus] said you never really knew a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”  Later that evening she says of a character in a book Atticus is reading to her: “He hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice . . . ” and he replies, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

Linking up today with #WorthRevisit where bloggers “recycle” favorite posts each week.  The linkup is hosted at Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb and you can see this week’s posts right here.
 

Wishful thinking

Yesterday a Facebook friend was trying to convince others, via her status, that Pepsi was debuting a new can that included the whole Pledge of Allegiance except for the words “under God” (the HEATHENS!).  We were all supposed to put this in our statuses and NEVER EVER drink that devilish drink AGAIN!
Now I know very well by now that 99.9% of such internet claims are lies.  Some are feel-good lies, like all those sappy “inspirational” stories that are mostly just not true or are exaggerated for effect.  I don’t usually bother bursting anyone’s bubble over those.  But others, like this one, damage the reputations of individuals and businesses.  It only takes a few seconds to go to Snopes and check their validity, and so I always do and always will, even if I hated Pepsi and wished the company would go out of business!  Because, you know, truth is important, and if you have to tell lies to bolster your argument (now I’m thinking of political email forwards) then maybe you need to reconsider your position.
Anyway, the Snopes article did mention that the words “under God” are a late addition to the Pledge anyway, which I think I knew but had forgotten.  And since it’s truthful to say that our nation IS under God (because isn’t everything?) I think it’s a fine addition and I’m proud to say it.
However, this got me thinking about the Pledge, and about a practice that you might be surprised that I object to.  Frequently, at gatherings of pro-life folks, the Pledge is recited, with a postscript at the end:  “with liberty and justice for all, born and unborn.”  I don’t like that addition, and I won’t say it.  And you know why?  Because it isn’t true.  And no amount of saying it is going to make it true.
You might argue that even the “with liberty and justice for all”  part isn’t true, you anti-American you!  But even if it isn’t always true, it’s supposed to be.  Our laws support that ideal for the most part, as do our courts.  On the other hand, our laws explicitly reject liberty and justice for the unborn.
When we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, we are pledging allegiance to a government that has said it is okay to abort babies up until the day they are born.  That is simply a fact.  It is a government that has allowed and sanctioned and approved and codified many other things, some that I object to and some that you do.  I love my country and will continue to pledge allegiance to it, but that doesn’t make me blind to its faults, nor is it unpatriotic of me to think some changes are in order.
What do people mean when they say the Pledge in this altered way?  Are they saying that they aren’t really pledging allegiance to this country, but that they will if the abortion laws are changed?  Are they just pretending that what they wish was true is true?  They cannot claim that they are pledging allegiance to some sort of ideal that the flag itself symbolizes, because the pledge makes it quite clear that those reciting it are pledging allegiance to the country as well.
I know pro-lifers well, because I am one.  And I know many of them have worked tirelessly for changes in the country’s abortion laws.  But adding a phrase to the Pledge that amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking is at best pointless and at worst dishonest and counterproductive.