Saturday, July 05, 2003

I'm not big on the 4th of July. Usually I go to the office to work on funding proposals for CEW, where I am lead organizer. An acquaintance had given me a flyer for a fundraising event, to send a group of young artists and activists to Cuba for the hip hop forum in August. It was a 4th of u lie event and the young people -- appearing dreadlocked and mostly colored in the publicity photo -- described themselves as rebels.

It took me aback because I associate the term rebel with southerners who refuse to get over having lost the Civil War. I have been thinking about that word and related words in the lexicon of "American" identity. Rebel, rebellion, patriot, citizen have all been used to justify war and torture, dentention and lynching and degradations of every description. The men who founded this country created it with an economy wholly dependent on the labor of enslaved humans. It founded its rebellion against the British on ideas freedom and liberty that didn't include women, non-Christians, the resident indigenous population or the indentured and later enslaved one generating its profits. Those seeking this narrow, mean liberty called themselves patriots.

The civil war gives us a more honest version of rebellion, since it was over property, who owns what and whom, and how a government might interfere in that ownership. For this cause, white folks went to war. Today, in the south, and west and north (and all over the US) call themselves rebels in the spirit of those they claim as war between the states ancestors.

What do rebels and patriots stand for today? Are they rebelling against illegal wars fought for specious and greedy ends against the will of many US citizens and most of the world? No, in this case, they fly their US flag and their stars and bars. Are they outraged that the unemployment rate is at 6.4% or that some of their favorite southern states have whole counties dependent on contingent (temporary) labor pools for their security? No. Do they question the diversion of taxes and the benefits of tax cuts to the increasingly wealthy while they live the illusion that they are somehow, inexplicably, middle class, earning less than $25,000 per year.

They don't rebel against the possibility that they are poor and their government doesn't care. No, the rebellion they seek is the one that will give a false sense of superiority, that illusory feeling of being better than somebody, somebody colored, or female or immigrant or queer-- then they don't have to discover what really needs to change in this country. Patriotism has come to mean nostalgia. It is a yearning for the continuous ascendency of a superior class that knows what we need and gives it to us, as long as we are quiet, compliant and industrious.

So I will forego the fireworks and store the patriotism on a shelf. I choose an active engaged citizenship over the pretense of power. Its more work, but legitimate government always is.

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