What is actually a patriot?
This Memorial Day, I reflected on patriotism and tried to define what it means and who actually encapsulated the idea of a patriot. Patriotism seems to be a word that conjures images of Baby Boomers with hats adorned with tea bags screaming about the Constitution. I wish to offer a slightly different image of a true American patriot: Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK).
Hold on — MLK never jumped up and down about the Federal Reserve, the Second Amendment, or proclaimed that government is too big. Isn’t the President a Muslim?
What made MLK a patriot?
Martin Luther King, Jr. demanded equality. He demanded equality for everyone — Blacks, Women, Gays, Poor, Rich, Brown, Asians. He never once said “tolerate us.” He instead demanded his rights and the rights for all of humanity no matter who you were or wanted to be. MLK understood one cannot have freedom nor liberty without equality. Freedom and liberty without equality is just slavery, privilege, favoritism, cronyism, power elites, nomenklatura and racism.
MLK had help to shape his ideology from an unlikely slave owner, America’s third President Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson wrote one of the greatest sentences in recorded human history that inspired so many to fight for their human rights — including MLK.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – The Declaration of Independence
Armed with wisdom from the Founding Fathers, and his moral fortitude, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t speak truth to power, he spoke truth to the powerless. The powerful knew the truth, that’s why they beat the hell out of everyone. Horrible photos can be seen on the internet of lynchings, water hoses, harassment, and civil unrest that was violent and deadly. The civil rights movement was paid in full by blood and death of hundreds and thousands of nameless and powerless citizens.
I suggest that Martin Luther King, Jr. is a true patriot because he empowered the nameless and powerless masses. He spoke truth to them and he walked side by side with them. He not only touched the hearts of a segregated segment of society, he also inspired the powerful and privileged who could see that inequality was wrong to join hand in hand with them. Armed only with the moral conviction of his faith, and the intellectual inheritance of our collective human ancestry, Martin Luther King, Jr. walked and talked like a patriot.
To be a patriot you don’t wave your newly bought American flag and put on FOX News. You don’t ride around in your rascal scooter, blame Mexicans for taking “your jobs,” and pine for the days where you can call another human being “Colored.” You don’t invent boogymen and blame them for your problems — sometimes you accept you are part of the problem and try to change it.
To be a patriot, you must question authority and make your case for justice. How many times in human history do we see individuals question the status quo? Ghandi, Jesus (even if you think he is fictional his story is compelling and moving), Socrates, Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr., Leon Trotsky and Nelson Mandela — what did they all have in common? They all stood up against incredible odds to fight for justice, and often times had to die for their human rights and dignity. They all looked within society and said there is something wrong with the way we try to exist together.
To be a patriot, you must cry out for justice against tyranny in all forms, whether it’s a totalitarian government or corporate tyrannies. To be a patriot, you need to check in on your neighbor and see if he or she is OK. To be a patriot, you need to learn from history so you are not a slave to history. To be a patriot, you either take part in the political process to reform it or you find another way to rally against the system.
My patriotism and your patriotism shouldn’t be drenched in phony symbolism, slogans, euphemisms and media propaganda. Our patriotism should be all of us saying together the great Buffalo Springfield lyric:
i think it’s time we stop, children
what’s that sound
everybody look what’s goin down
– “Stop, Hey What’s That Sound” by Buffalo Springfield