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'Murica: Land of the Free? The Evolution of My Patriotism

I love me a good fireworks show and have been known to shed a tear to two watching the sky explode to the tune of Lee Greenwood belting out that he's "...proud to be an American...where at least I know I'm freeeeeee..." I have memories of driving with my kids when they were little, with this same tune blasting on repeat as we enthusiastically and loudly sang along. We painted t-shirts and waited hours in the heat to watch the fireworks show of the area. (see below for one my absolute favorite pictures of my kids ever).

The picture was post 9/11, likely a product of the surge of patriotism and unity that this country saw in the years following. I remember a couple weeks after the planes hit the towers, sitting in my living room after the kids had gone to bed and I was alone with my thoughts. I was overwhelmed with sadness at what kind of world my kids would grow up in. There are arguments to be made that the world has always been a mess and that each generation has its own "world is ending" events and concerns.

What I missed in those concerns was how much our country would change and how those changes would be the ones that had a bigger impact on the world my kids now live in. "...where at least I know I'm free." When I look at that picture now, I see a little girl who had more rights than she does now. Her right to make decisions about her health and reproductive options have been taken away by a Supreme Court more concerned about a potential life than the actual life of the mother.

That's the most glaring offense in the stripping of freedoms, but it's not even the most egregious, in my opinion. Our freedom has been eroding in so many ways and for so long that we seem to have accepted it as our fate. We're free to send our kids to school every day (and hope they don't get killed in another school shooting). We're free to work 40+hours a week for less than a living wage (and hope you don't have a mental breakdown). We're free to have a mental breakdown (and hope you have insurance to seek professional help, otherwise you better not miss too much work or you won't be able to pay your bills). We're free to go to college and pursue our passions (and graduate with insurmountable debt while struggling to find work in our field). We're free to be who we are (as long as we're not openly LGBTQ). I don't even know where to start when it comes to what being Black in America means. Freedom my ass.

247 years is but a blip in the history of the world. For perspective, the Roman Empire lasted 1,000 years. We're arrogant to think we're the best and that we're invincible to the collapse of our American Empire.

247 years ago, a bunch of imperfect humans had an idea about what they wanted our country to be and to become. I often wonder what they might have been thinking when they signed that declaration 247 years ago and if they'd be proud of what we have become today.

I believe that some of the biggest and most positive changes in our country over the last 247 years have come from some of the hardest and most painful eras in our history. I don't believe this time is any different. It's hard to see through the struggle and division that seems to permeate everything these days, but I believe those changes are coming.

I do appreciate the freedoms that we have as Americans. I am thankful that I can write a blog like this or be openly critical of our elected representatives without fear of imprisonment or death. Our previous president ran on and coined the "make America great again" concept, insinuating that we were once "greater" than we currently are and that somehow, we need to get back to that time. But when was that? Back to the time when women couldn't vote and black people weren't considered human? Or just past that, when women still knew their place and black people were human but couldn't drink out of our drinking fountains?

Making things better rarely requires backwards movement. You make things better by looking back and then moving foward. Looking back tells us that we made mistakes and there are ways to fix them that make the American dream of freedom and justice really mean for all. I hope that I get to see those changes in my lifetime. I hope I get to see some of them make my kids' lives easier. I hope they will one day be able to get the medical attention they need, without having to worry about the financial impact of it. I hope my daughter will one day have the same rights to make her own reproductive health decisions that she did in that picture.

I think if I heard Lee Greenwood come on the radio today, I'd have to change it. I don't think I could bear it. My patriotism doesn't look the same as it did back then. I'm not out there singing songs, making shirts, or tearing up at firework shows. Now I celebrate by speaking my mind, voting, and vowing to always speak out in matters of injustice--or where a person's freedom to be who they are are being attacked.

We can do better, America. I have faith in us.

Happy Independence Day!

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