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Like most American children — especially those of us who grew up in small, rural white towns and went to public school — I was raised to be a “patriot.” I’m not sure I ever fit that mold, and I don’t identify with it now. What I understand American patriotism to be is a fierce, blind love that rejects any criticism, even if it’s warranted. It’s the attitude that you can’t down-talk the military because you would be insulting veterans, you can’t stand up against environmentally destructive development because you’re interfering with good American “progress,” and Kaepernick is a douchebag because he cares more about justice than the national anthem.
It begins in school, when we’re taught about all the great things America has done and how we’re a gift to the world. I didn’t learn about the Japanese internment camps until I was a high school senior in an “advanced” class. I am still learning about all the horrific things this country has done and is still doing to Native Americans. I originally came to Standing Rock to fight a pipeline, and I left knowing it was much more than that.
Going into 2017, I think it’s important that we all resolve to learn more about this country’s history, including the horrible, shameful things that were done, in the past and at this very moment. We must individually work to be better than that, and collectively demand to be better. We must recognize that we live on stolen land, and we must walk softly and be humble. We must be open to learning about and understanding other cultures besides our own. We must reconsider our priorities. Do we really care about a single country and it’s imaginary boundaries more than this planet we all share and depend on? Do we really care more about building stuff than the incredible species and natural beauty we are squashing underfoot in the process? Are we really too proud to admit we don’t always know best?
The United States was founded on questioning authority — and THAT is something I have always identified with.