Patriotism and Civil Disobedience

American flag in Menomonee Falls - Election Day, 2020.

I must say, my friends, that I cannot reject the Constitution or the Declaration of Indepence of our great United States. Our country and its documents are – should be – harbingers for democracy, the earliest experiments of true liberty in a world once dominated by imperialism and monarchy.

Yet, as I watch the least democratic segment of American democracy reverse the civil rights it once deemed unalienable, I find it harder – actually, impossible – to stand with the Flag again. As I see a sitting justice of our Supreme Court suggest reviewing (overturning) the substantive due process cases that gave us same-sex marriage, access to contraceptives, and unrestricted ability to experience human pleasure, I am less convinced that our country is an harbinger for democracy, and more convinced that we are an harbinger of what democracy looks like as it rots. As I weighed the momentous decision of last Friday with the existing issues of now – legalized slavery in a country with the highest incarceration rate on the planet; an unconstitutional and morally repugnant death penalty, which in its anti-Christian, eye-for-an-eye fervor, continues to slowly blind America; an anti-poor rather than anti-poverty focus, present in even Democratic statehouses and Congress; and, of course, rampant, unchecked racism and attacks on American democracy, evident from local office to the Capitol itself – I realized that the experiment on true liberty has yet to even begin, for large swaths of our people – almost a majority, now – continue to be robbed of their liberty, cheated of their selfhood, mugged of their natural rights, all in the most self-described nation of freedom on this earth.

As I ponder the necessary progress that our country has still yet to work to achieve, I can see a 3’ by 5’ American flag hanging on my bedroom wall. It is now upside down, horizontal, no longer a symbol of democracy, but rather a symbol of the present failure of American democracy. 

I can taste the approach of the Fourth of July – another Independence Day celebration, much like last year and the year before – but I can no longer celebrate it: like some of you, I will present myself at half-staff, and I will not revel in the festivities, knowing that the freedom granted to me is denied to so many of our nation’s people. 

Now that our country has failed its people, I must commit to a campaign to bring my friends, my siblings, my people, the country’s people, to the ballot boxes, to codify human rights. I will tell this country: “When you grab your ballot, you must think of your sister, your mother, your daughter, your wife, and if you are capable of pregnancy, yourself. When you grab the ballot, you must think of your black friends and siblings, many of whom are still forced into generational poverty, languishing under implicit racism and the effects of explicit racism. When you grab the ballot, you must think of your undocumented friends and siblings, who come to this country for opportunity and freedom, but experience the threat of ethnic persecution and deportation. When you grab the ballot, you must tell your human friends and siblings – black and white, male and female, gay and straight, cisgender and transgender, documented and undocumented, incarcerated and free – that you are voting not only for yourself but for them; that you recognize that we as a people operate as constituents of a collective whole, not as individuals of a segregated group; and that our freedom is inextricably bound to his freedom, her freedom, their freedom, everyone’s freedom!” I will act with love and understanding at the core of my heart, and I will tell the voters of this country that their time is NOW: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy” as Martin Luther King said. 

I will join in fervent, unrelenting activism and protest. No longer will I only preach to the choir and write impassioned essays. I will run and assist with protests, events, and outreach campaigns alongside my fellow freedom fighters. I will love even those who wish to call me their enemy, and I will forever consider even those who wish me dead, my neighbors; for we are all brethren, members of one conscience, whose freedoms and lives are forever and absolutely bound to each other – none of us can walk alone. I will recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, as Martin Luther King repeats in many of his essays, and that I must not devolve into bitterness, fall into hatred, lose motivation, cave under fear, or give up the struggle, until justice everywhere is no longer threatened.

I seek to join and help you all in the road ahead. I understand, as do you, that the road will be long, meandering, unsteady, and sprawling with cracks and potholes. Yet, I will forever know and will forever promise to you that we as a people can bring the dark and desolate valleys of America’s failed democracy a new sunlit path of justice and freedom. I tell you all, that as we are persecuted and threatened and harassed and beaten for our struggling, we must forever find faith to continue in the image of Jesus Christ: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).