Not so very long ago, I stood in an elementary school classroom, my hand over my heart as I faced the flag on the wall and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. As I said the words “with liberty and justice for all,” I felt a deep sense of irony. I wanted to take my hand away from my heart. I didn’t want to recite these words by rote with a bunch of children, my son among them, who did not have a full and deep understanding of U.S. history. I also didn’t want to take my hand from my heart. I wanted to keep it there, because I love this country.
I love this country because Sojourner Truth asked us if she counted as a woman while Susan B. Anthony and Lucetia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton asserted that all men and women are created equal. I love this country because Ida B. Wells fought lynching, which was connected to the vote because for God’s sake if you’re being hung from trees you ought to have a vote, that is if you are a human being (and oh yes, oh yes we are all human beings), and I love this country because the Grimke sisters demanded to speak in public as women so that they could oppose slavery. I love this country because Alice Paul starved herself in jail so that finally, finally the vote could pass. I love this country because the actions of these women said, loud and clear, We know what Liberty and Justice for All means and we aren’t there. And they got us closer.
I love this country because we have labor laws that prevent the exploitation of children–well, we have them, and they prevent the exploitation of some children, though not all, and we need to change that, my friends. But the eight-hour workday, and breaks, and bread and roses, oh those things are here because of the Haymarket Affair and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and because of the protests of Lucy and Albert Parsons and Rose Schneiderman and so many others. I love this country because they knew that Liberty and Justice for All meant we weren’t there. And they got us closer.
I love this country because black women planned the bus boycott for years and years. I love this country because women and men of all colors marched and wrote and cried and screamed and promised their way into today, where you and I are wondering just what this country is coming to because they sweated and worked and spoke and died to give us the privilege to wonder. I. Love. This. Country. Not because of where we are today, but because of where I hope—still, hope—that we are going.
And, my friends. I love this country because Colin Kapernick refused to stand for the national anthem. Not because he has the right to protest hypocrisy—well, yes, I do love that. But more, oh so much more, I love this country because his protest gave others the courage and the means to protest, and this protest says, We Know What Liberty and Justice for All means and we aren’t there.
And their protest will get us closer.