Stemming from the 16th century neologism “patriot,” the word “patriotism” is obscure, difficult-to-define and has historically conveyed emotions more driven by passion than by logic. But in the United States, patriotism, whatever it may be, has anchored itself in the national psyche as an integral component of the nation’s identity — a singular, unifying American brand. But as an opinion-based construct, this is problematic; individual perceptions result in myriad meanings, each warping and changing as time ever moves away from the giddy sentiments of the Age of Revolution. Curious to understand what all this looks like in the present day, I asked a cross-section Rhode Islanders of different backgrounds to explain what patriotism means – if anything – to them.
“As a veteran, I know more about what it’s not than what it is. It’s not about border walls. It’s not letting police officers off for killing people of color because they follow their own code of conduct. It is not a flag, it is not getting mad at people speaking up for what’s wrong with the country. It is definitely not confederate symbolism and it is definitely not white supremacy.” – Christopher Johnson, artist, poet and veteran
“Patriotism is understanding, supporting and defending the original values of our country as declared in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We believe the way they are being deteriorated now is a travesty, because almost every policy passed these days does infringe on somebody’s rights, and that’s wrong. We talk about civics training, but our youth don’t appreciate that important component of our constitutional freedoms.” – Mike Stenhouse, former professional baseball player, founder of RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity
“In the United States, patriotism equates to colonialism, which equates to being complicit. It can mean love of country but I think we are far from patriotism in that sense. It’s being used as an us vs. them tool to further divide the citizens of this country.” – Samantha Cullen-Fry, Educator Narragansett Tribe
“In a time where our country is often divided, patriotism is found in the deep, meaningful connections we have with neighbors and our dedication to make our communities safe, inclusive and welcoming for all.” – Rt. Hon. Jorge Elorza, Mayor of Providence
“A patriot is a person who devotes themselves daily to sacrificing their personal wants to the cause of freedom.” — Lauren E. Kelley, author Tuggie the Patriot Pup
“I don’t really know … could be going off to war, like a lot of people do here, or it could be fighting to try and fix all the inequalities in everyday living.” – Brian, electrical engineer and immigrant from Ireland
What does patriotism mean to you? Let us know! Head to our Facebook page @motifri and get involved in the conversation! (And while you’re there, check out our man-on-the-street video that accompanies the article. It can be found here: xxx)