By Hannah Soyer
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., finished his speech for the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement 2017 conference on July 15 by answering this question: What are three things that allow you to be optimistic in this time of chaos?
His first two answers were predictable — that we have no other choice right now, and that he must remain optimistic about the future of his grandchildren and coming generations. “Last,” he said, “I remain optimistic because I love this country, and I love the people. I traveled to 48 states during my time campaigning for the presidency, and I have met so many amazing people at the town-hall-style events I held that want to make this country a better place. People who love this country and who are fighting for a change, people who show us that what is currently happening in Washington does not reflect the vast majority of Americans.”
I’ve always struggled with patriotism. There are only rare moments I can remember in my 22 years of living when I felt proud to be American. The first time Obama was elected. The day the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal across the country. The time that the Dakota Access Pipeline was (temporarily) halted. Maybe this has more to do with my relatively recent dive into politics and voracious news consumption, or maybe this has to do with my mom telling me when I was very young that there were a lot of things America had done that she wasn’t proud of, slavery being the most memorable example. Regardless, I have always felt somewhat uncomfortable when I hear “God bless America” or “America is the best country in the world.”
I am quickly beginning to realize, however, that America, for me, is like my high-school career. There were parts of it I loved and was very thankful for, and then there were other parts that made me burn with shame. All the same, it is absolutely necessary that those of us Americans who are disgusted by the current administration take Sanders’ words to heart: There is a vast majority of fellow resisters out there, and the knowledge that this country has good in it is worth fighting for in and of itself.
I have a friend who stayed in on the night of July Fourth and didn’t celebrate, because she was feeling unpatriotic and ashamed of where our country was. And I understand this. I understand how easy it is to slip into a general disgust of what is happening in politics right now and then conflate that with a disgust of our country. But the fact is, we live here, too. And yes, there are things about America I do not like, but there are also aspects of it I love: the great diversity, that people may love whom they love, the relative accessibility that comes with being such a new country with laws such as the ADA. Yes, we have a big fight ahead of us and a long road to travel, but imagine how much more momentum this movement would have if all resisters realized what was beautiful about our country and used that to fuel their fight.
I’m not talking about ignoring the wrongs — far from it. I am talking about knowing that this land really is our land and that the seed of goodness that many of us have been hunting for is already here. I want to reclaim this country for those who feel they don’t love it, and I want to do that by resisting from a place of hope, not hatred.
The character Alexander Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical says, “America, you great unfinished symphony,” moments before his death. The United States certainly was not perfect at the time of Hamilton’s death, and anyone who would argue that it is perfect now might just be living under a rock. But it is unfinished. We don’t need to go back to a simpler or different time, and we certainly don’t need to make America great “again.” We have to realize that the goodness is already here, and we need to fight for that.