My country ‘tis of thee: sweet land of liberty

by Sophie Johnson  – Chicago, Illinois

You might get the wrong impression if you walked by Margie Sadinsky’s house. The 60-something-year-old woman casts her strictly-Democrat ballot in every election, is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and makes the best organic apple crisp in the universe. Her modest blue house, though, has a rather defining characteristic: a giant American flag is displayed just above the mailbox.

If you ask Margie why she so prominently exhibits this nationalistic symbol, she’ll answer without hesitation: “Patriotism is not another word for Republican.” How often we forget that the two are not synonymous.

It’s taken me many angst-ridden teenage years to realize that this is a great country. After the 2000 presidential election, I joked with my friends that I was going to move to Canada as soon as I was old enough; upon the painfully similar election results four years later, I seriously contemplated relocating to the north. In Canada, I figured, I wouldn’t have to worry about hanging chads or corrupt congressmen. Everything would be maple leaves and venison and re-runs of “Degrassi.” Canadian life was clearly where it was at.

And maybe I was right. But what I failed to realize then was that we cannot define this country by its administration. I understand that it is difficult to separate a nation from its government, and ours is not always a government to be proud of. Many liberals agree that even the most Democratic presidents in history were vastly conservative in their politics.

This, after all, is a country that has a bad reputation for good reasons, especially today. Since the war in Iraq, there have been more than 2,900 American soldier casualties and between 50,000 and 150,000 Iraqi and Afghan causalities.  Despite the Geneva Convention edicts, the United States has gained the status of a country that has no qualms with utilizing torture procedures on war prisoners. It is no wonder international criticism of this country is at an all-time high.

There has not been a day since the United States bombed Baghdad in 2003 that I haven’t believed that this war was ludicrous, counterproductive, and launched for more-than-questionable reasons. The Bush administration, like many past U.S. administrations, commits acts of terror in order to get richer and more powerful. In my mind, the evidence to support this notion is practically irrefutable. Still, I love this country and I am proud to be a part of it.

In a CNN debate with Bill Bennett in 2002, Noam Chomsky said, “I choose to live in what I think is the greatest country in the world, which is committing horrendous terrorist acts and should stop.” Here was one of the biggest and most outspoken critics of United States policy asserting that the same country he vocally rebukes is in fact the greatest in the world.

And in so many ways it is. We are a country that is framed around rebellion, after all—we came into our own after 13 colonies, sick of British governance, fought and won a war in order to gain independence in 1776. Although the United States we know today was built on the backs of slaves and indentured servants, although our history is stained with the blood of millions of unfairly oppressed people, that original rebellion has carried itself through generations and generations, and it still thrives.

This is a country made of people, not of policies. The typical American is a rebel, a radical, a revolutionary.  We are the heirs of immigrants who escaped tyranny for a better life, or the slaves that survived unfathomable hardships. We are the heirs of the brave.

Last week, Ebonee Stevenson, a college student and activist, gathered together with two dozen other angry women and stormed Chicago’s City Hall during a City Council meeting. They came demanding answers: Why was their neighborhood—a historically African-American community south of Hyde Park—being gentrified? Where were the displaced working poor going to? How was the city going to help its citizens when it came to matters like this?

“It was so cool,” Ebonee told me, “all those angry people determined to make those aldermen listen.”

Of course, the group didn’t find exact answers to their difficult questions. What they found, though, was a sense of connection and the freedom to fight for what they believed in. These people—not the aldermen, not the mayor, not Condoleeza Rice or George W. Bush—are the people that make up the United States of America.

The fighters will not always win. It is easy to become discouraged when the newspapers are racked with death tolls and political sex scandals. But despite all that, the rebellion continues. It’s written into our history: If something is wrong, it is the people that will not rest until it is made right.

This is my country. I sing the National Anthem, and I salute the flag. But more than that, I band together with the people to fight mercilessly for what I believe in. I do it because it is right; I do it because I can.

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