The last four years have shown the dark underbelly of an America that has always existed. From anti-immigration rallies, to transphobia, to denying the right to vote for all Americans, the promise of our country has been changed and scarred by hate and bigotry. And the worst part? It’s been done under the guise of patriotism, flying the American flag as the hate and vitriol spew. Like countless others, I have found myself wishing to have distance from that hatred. I’m not alone. Many Americans who believe in progressive values have also distanced themselves from the flag, patriotism, and our identity as patriots.
In the last several years, my best friend Rachel Willis and I have begun the work to reclaim what it means to be a patriot and to invite other progressives to do the same. In doing this work we’ve heard reactions like, “Patriot …? Not me, I don’t have a Trump flag flying, and I believe in science!” We’ve heard some variation of that sentiment time and time again. As we opened the door to these conversations, we started to ask ourselves, Why do progressives have such a negative connotation with the word patriot? When did that happen? Why did we let it happen? The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had given away too much, too easily.
When we don’t accurately identify the work being done by millions of Americans to change the narrative of our country as patriotic or identify ourselves as patriots, we miss the opportunity for something powerful — unity and pride.
Last summer we saw Americans of all races and ethnicities come together to say enough is enough: this country must address the legacy of racism it is built upon. They said Black Lives Matter, and that was the work of patriots. We saw Stacey Abrams and voting rights advocates in Georgia work tirelessly to ensure voters got to the polls, even in the face of active voter suppression. They said voter rights are civil rights, and that was the work of patriots. In the face of unconscionable family separation and child detention at the border, we saw immigration rights activists doing everything in their power to fight and reunite. They said no human is illegal, and that was the work of patriots.
The more we thought about this, the more we realized we’d given up something valuable that belonged to us just as much as to anyone else — patriotism. We realized the need to create new associations with the word patriot, to reclaim “patriot” in the image we know to be true. Patriots don’t storm the Capitol with nooses. Patriots fight every single day to ensure this country exceeds its founding promises. Patriots believe women+ control their own bodies, health care is a human right, love is love, climate change is real, and more.
How do we make people see themselves as patriots? We make the beliefs we hold on the inside visible on the outside, and we do it en masse. Rachel and I have created a company that enables people to boldly display their beliefs. For every one person in a MAGA hat, we want five in a “Patriots believe Black Lives Matter” or “Patriots believe climate change is real” shirt, making clear their values and beliefs.
We know that wearing a shirt doesn’t change everything, but it’s a visible, tangible start. It shows people they are not alone. They are in community with others who care and who want to fight for this country to be better — and that is the work of patriots.
Visit Patriots Believe and start wearing your beliefs on your t-shirt!
(P.S. 50% of profits from those shirts go to social justice organizations.)
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and has been slightly modified.
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