As my family and I get ready to celebrate Independence Day, I cannot help but reflect and be thankful to our men and women in uniform who fought for, and continue to fight for, our independence and freedoms both at home and abroad. While the 4th of July is a day when we join together to celebrate this country we love so much, it disturbs me that we have witnessed the reemergence of an ideology that attempts to cast those who may not think the same way as somehow being “unpatriotic.”
At a time when we as one nation need to be united, we see suggestions that differences of opinion — or more specifically, calls for a new, more inclusive direction for our country — are some sort of insult to our founding principles and are therefore unpatriotic. For this Iraq War veteran and proud member of the United States Marine Corps, patriotism takes on many forms, and this Independence Day, I’d like to take a moment to lay out what patriotism means to me.
To me, patriotism is not a contest, and patriotism is not a blind devotion to a regime or demagogue. American patriotism is not just loving our country, but pushing our country to live up to its ideals. Taking care of the person to your left and to your right is a principle that we in the Marine Corps uphold, and that is an ideal derived from our country’s founding values — values that envisioned a country that takes care of everyone who lives in it and ensures everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
What we have seen is a rise of “I’m more patriotic than you” attitudes that divide us. In those instances, people often invoke their gratitude to my fellow veterans when talking how patriotic they are. Indeed, my brothers and sisters in arms have earned that admiration through their service and sacrifice, so we are thankful for that appreciation. But I would argue that a man who furiously waves a flag is no more patriotic than a man who volunteers his time helping the poor or who protests a government policy he disagrees with.
It is patriotic to serve in the armed forces to fight for the security of our children. It is also patriotic to nurture future generations of Americans by serving as an educator, all while being severely underpaid or often going without thanks. I would also argue it is out of a sense of patriotism that pushes our neighbors to work as medical professionals so they can keep their fellow Americans alive in the face of preventable illnesses and a preventable opioid crisis.
It is patriotic to serve in the armed forces to fight the forces of tyranny and to advance the ideals of liberty without ceding an inch to authoritarianism. So to, then, is it patriotic to defend every American’s inalienable rights to act in the face of injustice, to enjoy a free society and a free press. It is patriotic to question and furiously oppose an out-of-control executive branch that brands reporters as “enemies of the people” and cruelly, needlessly rips children from the arms of parents at our southern border, themselves dreaming of becoming American patriots.
When I enlisted in the Marine Corps, I did so with feelings of pride and patriotism, to defend this country I love, with its ideals that already make it great. I fought to ensure every American, and every aspiring American, could build their American dream in this country. Much like the idea our founders had when they envisioned America, a society where all men are created equal, so too we must continue to defend patriots of all stripes. When you thank active military, veterans and all who fight for our freedom on this Independence Day, remember those other patriots who fight for justice and equality and who fight to keep America a shining beacon for all to see and strive to achieve.
Leroy Garcia is the State Senator for Senate District 3, which represents Pueblo and Pueblo West, and serves as the Senate Minority Leader.