Giving thanks

This Thanksgiving, give thanks for being an American

THANKSGIVING: the all-American holiday where we gorge ourselves to the point of near-stomach-rupture and Mom and Dad have always let you try just a little bit of the champagne. It’s a time to enjoy good food, remember good times and revel in the company of your family or friends.

This Thanksgiving, while you’re sitting at the table laughing at Grandpa’s odd mannerisms and helping Dad carve the turkey, don’t just snicker when Mom tearfully begins the traditional roundabout discussion of what you all have to be thankful for this year. The year 2008 in particular has given us, as Americans, an awful lot to reflect on while we’re enjoying our cranberry sauce and cornbread.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American tradition that, according to myth, arose from a rare moment of peace and companionship between the Puritan settlers in New England and the Native Americans, who taught them techniques necessary for survival in the unfamiliar terrain of the New World. It celebrates the harvest season with a feast that borders on excessive, and reminds us to be thankful for all of the modern conveniences of the first world that we enjoy as the heirs to all of America’s tumultuous history.

As such, Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to reflect on what it means to be an American, and what legacy our heritage has left us as young people growing up, learning and working in this nation. This year has seen a lot of differing international opinions towards America. In the blink of an eye, we have gone from being an international joke, the target of near-universal disdain abroad, to being cautiously but enthusiastically congratulated by nations all throughout the world who watched with empathy and hope as President-elect Barack Obama took the stage to deliver his victory speech on Nov. 4. Throughout it all, we have remained a people of surprising dignity, pride and belief in ourselves and our ideals — though by no means perfect — and that has enabled us to transcend even the most frightening of prospects: a downturn in our economy, the threat of Islamic extremism, even bigotry and hatred within our borders.

 The word “unpatriotic” got tossed around a lot during the 2008 election. Obama was unpatriotic because he refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel, claiming that it was an empty gesture standing in for real patriotism. Sarah Palin critized Joe Biden for suggesting that wealthy Americans should consider their higher taxes patriotic, calling the tax hikes fundamentally unpatriotic. Anyone who dared to disagree with the policies of the Bush administration ran the risk of being “unpatriotic” and anti-American. Don’t support the war in Iraq? You must not really love America. But really, what does it mean to be a patriot?

Patriotism is about supporting our country — and sometimes, supporting our country might mean disagreeing with our leaders. Patriotism isn’t about blindly following inept leaders, standing by outdated and ineffective policies, or submitting oneself completely to the will of the government. America was founded on the principle that we all have the right — indeed, the duty — to stand up and fight for what we believe is right. Patriotism isn’t about remembering every word to the Pledge of Allegiance, wearing an American flag pin on your coat, or warbling “I’m proud to be an American” over an eardrum-popping guitar riff. It’s about really considering every nuance and every option, and expressing your opinion, whether support or dissent, through your vote, your words, your rallies or your protests.

Our forefathers fought and died so that we could have the right to disagree. They committed the principle of free speech to paper in the very first article of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, the document that has guided the progress of this nation for over 200 years.  In other countries, you can be imprisoned or killed for disagreeing with the government; here, it’s a fundamental right and a founding pillar of our nation.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to be an American. In the months to come, much is going to change as we install a new president, new senators and representatives, and a new cabinet. Being a patriot doesn’t mean you need to blindly support every one of their decisions — if you disagree, make it known. That’s not unpatriotic; that’s the very foundation of our country. America became a great nation because it was born from the minds of many great thinkers, not from the vision of one king or dictator. So make your voice heard, and be thankful that you live in a nation where that voice matters.

Michelle Lamont’s column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.lamont@cavalierdaily.com.

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