Every year when July 4th rolls around, patriotism is at it’s highest point. While this usually involves American Flags, country music, cookouts, and fireworks, it can also bring out unresolved feelings of anger towards the way the government is being run. Currently, the United States is a bit of a mess with the White House being minimally staffed and many of the cabinet departments barely holding on. The way our current President is running the country doesn’t sit well with many citizens and has hurt their sense of patriotism. But you don’t have to agree with everything happening in your country to be patriotic.
The definition of the word dissent is: the expression or holding of opinions at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially held. As Theodore Roosevelt once stated: “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.”
Many people think that disagreeing with the government makes you less of an American, but in truth, it is the very thing that makes this country so great. Our freedom to dissent against our government and our President and not fear retribution is what makes America great. One of the only reasons that America is such a strong world power is because of our constitution and the protections and freedoms it provides. If people start to take away that right by condemning those who would stand against our current President, they are acting unjustly and against the Constitution.
To quote another great American dissenter: Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” This is still relevant and true in this day, even if the unjust laws he was referring to are much different than the ones we face today. Although in a way some are the same. In MLK’s times they were fighting against unjust segregation and Jim Crow laws, today we are fighting against unjust travel bans and the many other unjust decisions being made by our current government. One of the greatest things about America is that protest works in our country. As proven by the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, going against the government in a strong and united front can make change happen, which is why it is so important to never give up the fight against unjust laws.
As someone who has always been very patriotic, it has been hard to come to terms with the way that the meaning of patriotism has changed recently. I grew up celebrating the 4th of July like it was the best day of the year and have enough American flag gear to deck myself out head to toe. At some point in the recent past, it has seemed as though the Right has taken back the image of the flag and claimed it for themselves. But the American flag is for everyone. It does not represent a political party, it represents our country. Just because I’m a liberal that's embarrassed by our federal government right now does not mean that I can’t be patriotic and wear the American flag. In fact, I may wear the flag one day and support someone’s right to burn it the next day, and I’m still just as patriotic as anyone else. This country was built on dissent. Our country was founded by men who disagreed with the English monarchy to the point that they left and started their own country, with nothing but their families and their desire for freedom and liberty. It is these rights that our country was founded upon, and it is these rights that our country fights for every single day.
People come to America from all over the world because of our freedom and our rights. In the first amendment, all Americans are given the right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition. It is these rights that protect an American’s right to dissent against the government in many different ways. While the idea and action of dissent may anger some Americans, it is a right that we must all protect and fight for every day because it is one of the reasons that America is already great.
-- Susan Locke, rising Senior at USC and summer intern with AFAR.