Patriotism and putting on a show

*** Warning: Political views and ranty things – I do not intend to offend, only observe and obviously observations are biased, because I am me.***

I live in a medium sized city/town in California. I would say small – because after 16 years I feel like I know or recognize everyone, however, it is not actually small. It is a university town made up of students, people who came to school here and never left, families that have been here generations, resident transients, and various other people from all sorts of walks of life. It is, for the most part, a liberally minded populous. During the year, it is not uncommon to find politically minded people picketing at the Farmer’s Market, soliciting support for a cause or a candidate, and typically these people protest our current Conservative Federal Representatives; and are of a very liberal leaning, perhaps swaying toward socialism (in a decent way). Even last night, during the Fourth of July Celebration at the community park, protestors made themselves heard in the grand style mimicked in the aptly title movie PCU (If you like social commentary, and silly college movies in the vain of Animal house – watch it). There were signs and demonstrations, upset over walls and camps and the maltreatment of fellow human beings. Things that should be protested, things that could be handled so much differently, things that should change.

As I sat on a picnic blanket with family and friends, however, I just kept wondering: why protest in this fashion, in a town which already agrees with you? Just to be seen? To ensure no one forgets? To feel like you’re doing something?

At this juncture, honestly, the awareness has been raised – the masses are upset – and the voices have been heard (even annoyingly and rudely over the last song of a fabulous band which was there playing) – what good is such a protest then? Hundreds and hundreds of miles from any place where these voices cry out, what good does this do the people experiencing life as refused refugees? What good does this do?

Pomp and Circumstance. The entire evening.

And I don’t mean the song, I mean the entire event. Distractions and more distraction. Besides the protestors, I watched thousands of people gather into the park – some for the concert, some for the fellowship, some just for the fireworks. Children and adults, glued to their phones as they sat on picnic blankets – ignoring the fellows in front of them for the false community the screen provides, engaging in the American traditions of capitalism by purchasing lights and glow sticks and snacks, doing the “American” thing – dressing in colors that they might mock the rest of the year. Is this what being American is? Having the freedom to fit in, to celebrate and be cynical, to love the self-touting ‘land of the free’ and in the same breath complain about it? perhaps.

As the 25 minute display of fireworks amazed the crowd – as the crowd pulled out their phones to record the event – as the music of a recorded orchestra played Americana music in the background (including, ironically, religious, patriotic, and rock songs) – I stepped back to our picnic blanket. Crowds freak me out, and being jostled by the masses was not priority for me – even if it meant I missed the best view of the fireworks. I couldn’t get over the fact that for the most part, this little city strives to be anything but stereotypically American – strives to be a radical little university town with transcendent views, who claim to be above the chaos of our government, who claim to have ideas about how to fix it – and here they all are, celebrating the monster.

It’s probably the English teacher me, but I couldn’t help but flash to the final scenes of Animal Farm when the pigs and humans are no longer different enough for the other animals to recognize which is which.

We are the masses – we are the reason things are messed up – but we just can’t stop consuming – consuming things, consuming ideas, consuming people, consuming tradition as if it still represents who we are – not understanding what it represents, but ooo….looks at the pretty fireworks. The mentality of this world is so scary to step back and observe.

When we don’t, we don’t notice the words subtly changing, the walls being built not only on our borders, but around our recognition of what it means to be free, what it means to participate in a way that might inspire and enact change for the better. And if we notice, we either feel powerless to do anything, we stomp around and make noise like that actually will fix anything (and I’m not just talking about protestors here, I’m talking about social media posts that are not researched and/or are posted but not attached to any action – even so small as a vote), or we don’t mind the distraction of a screen that can show us our every dream, even if it is never attached to the possibility that watching that screen will ever help us obtain it – so we let it happen.

I’m not throwing stones, I’m just observing. I have obviously done nothing today but write down my observations, and this will not change the world. The things that will, will happen slowly and steadily and most of us won’t notice until the shift has happened – the thing that we have to decide is: are we going to be a part of moving toward change, or will we let it happen around us and just accept it and move on as if we didn’t have a choice?

Within this system, we can vote. We can run for office. We can be informed in more ways than our echo chambers of social media news. We can discuss and refused to consume – we can entertain other ideas. Get involved and make a difference. I don’t know what to do on more than a day-to-day basis, but being informed in where I plan to start. How about you?

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