I am a black woman in America.
I am a woke black woman who has been woke before woke was cool.
I also love America.
I am an American patriot, an Angela Davis patriot. I heard Angela Davis explain to a television talk-show host that her activism did not come from a hatred of America, rather, it comes from her love for her country. Angela Davis patriotism is not a cheap “my country right or wrong” patriotism. It requires more than simply standing with hand over heart when the national anthem is performed before some sporting event. Angela Davis patriotism is filled with womanist virtues of love, responsibility, commitment, and complexity.
I love America because it is my home. The bones of my ancestors are interred in its ground. Their ashes are scattered over the waters that flow across the earth from its shores. The lives that they lived made America’s history that has become today becoming tomorrow. My West African ancestors came in the early 19th century in slave ships. They survived the horrors of the Middle Passage and the barbarisms of slavery and the injustices of Jim Crow to give me life and a country that allows me more opportunity than they ever had, that requires me to try my best to help this country become a more perfect union for all those who will come after me.
I do not know the story of my Irish and Scandinavian ancestors. I do not know how or when they came to the United States. I do not know the story behind the relationships that made them a part of me.
I do know that my ancestors have fought for their freedom and for the preservation of the United States. One of my ancestors walked away from slavery in Mississippi and joined the Union army to fight for his freedom. This summer my 96-year-old uncle who had served in North Africa and in Europe during World War II died. I have another uncle, now with the ancestors, who served in Vietnam as a member of the Special Forces. I have cousins who have made a career of the military. Some have served in America’s most recent wars. This spring I, a peace activist, pinned decorations on my nephew’s uniform on the occasion of his graduation from his Army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, the same base where his grandfather completed his basic training before deploying to Korea to fight that war.
To quote Sweet Honey in the Rock, “as long as there is breath in my body” I will speak out against BS wars fought for BS reasons to benefit the military industrial complex. I consider this too as an act of patriotism. It is an act of patriotism to teach nonviolent conflict resolution and mediation. It is an act of patriotism to speak out against injustice, inequality, dishonesty, and just plain stupidity in our politics.
I love America because it is the place where my family and friends and teachers and classmates and colleagues and students and church members loved me into being the woman that I am. And, they love me despite my limitations which are many.
Patriotism is found every day in ordinary people living their lives, doing their work with excellence and with integrity. Patriotism is found in decent people living decent lives that bring sustenance and joy, not only to their family and friends, but to perfect strangers with whom they come into contact at work, on the way to work, and in just living life. We the People of the United States deserve a government that is as decent and as patriotic as we are.
When the founders of the United States wrote the Constitution, they wrote from a historical, theological and anthropological understanding of humanity that requires a check on power. The fear was that if too much power was in the hands of one person or faction that they would abuse the power and reinstitute the tyranny the founders were creating a new nation to escape.
This is why they distributed power over three co-equal branches of government so that each branch could serve as a check on the other two. However, they left the ultimate check on power to We the People. This is why the power of the purse and the power to go to war reside with the Congress, especially with the House of Representatives whose members have to face the people every two years. If We the People do not like the way things are going, we have an opportunity to elect new representatives who will take the country in the direction that we want, or who will at least put a check on the power of the other two branches.
The power of elected representatives is power that is on loan from US. We the People take our power back on Election Day. Thus, voting is our ultimate patriotic duty. It is our responsibility to lend our power to people who are as decent as the people they represent. It is our responsibility to lend our power to people who will represent US with excellence and with integrity. This means they ought to think beyond the idea that they exist to serve the rich or one party or one group of people. At some point we have to lend our power to people who will work for the nation as a whole. We ought to lend our power to people who love America and all the people of America.
We the People are the ultimate check on lies and on the politics of racism, fear, deception, bad faith, and division. We get the government we deserve.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”