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Koutoulas: What is patriotism?

We recently celebrated the 243rd anniversary of our nation’s founding. And like many Americans, my wife and I proudly displayed Old Glory on our home for the weekend, as we do on most national holidays.

Like many of our friends and neighbors, we participated in the customary rituals: a cookout, the Lexington Fourth of July Parade and fireworks at Lykins park to close out the day.

I am a traditionalist when it comes to these things.

Patriotic music can bring a tear to my eye. (I’m especially fond of those John Philip Sousa marches.)

I always stand and remove my hat for the national anthem.

I recite the Pledge of Allegiance at appropriate times and places.

I’m a proud American because when America is at her best, we are indeed a shining example for the world.

But we are not always at our best. We fall short of our stated ideals in many ways.

We can disagree about some of those issues where we do fall short — and what to do about them. But we should all agree treating everyone within our borders with dignity and respect should be among our highest aims.

In other words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about what true patriotism is — and what it is not.

In my view, some of us have it all wrong about what it means to be a patriot.

Voting is patriotic. Paying your taxes is patriotic. Engaging in civic life, giving freely of your time and money to worthy charities is patriotic.

Standing in solidarity with fellow Americans who don’t enjoy the same privileges as you do is patriotic.

So is holding politicians and government leaders accountable for their words and actions.

Serving in the military, volunteering in a soup kitchen, helping to build houses for the homeless, reading to kids at an elementary school — all of these are acts of patriotism.

There are hundreds of ways to be a good citizen to make this country stronger and more just.

But if the only patriotic thing you ever do is wave a piece of cloth and stand at attention while some music plays before the ballgame, then you’re no patriot.

If you think anyone who disagrees with the president or any other public official should just shut up or move away, then you’re no patriot.

If you think people are wrong who boldly take a stand for the ideals this country was founded upon — when it’s not the popular thing to do — you are not a patriot.

Some people confuse being a patriot with being a puppet. Some people think a patriot should never question what the government does or says. Should never doubt what their leader asks of them. Should always obey every law, even unjust ones.

I think our founders — who mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in open rebellion to their king — would disagree.

These “founding fathers” were all men — white men who owned property and were mostly prosperous.

I am eternally grateful for their work, but as Dr. Martin Luther King noted, the promises made in our founding documents were not given to all equally.

In the ensuing centuries, we have broadened those promises to include women, the disabled, children, people of all races and creeds and sexual orientations.

If not for brave and relentless stands taken by people like Dr. King and so many others, none of this would have been possible.

But there are still battles to be won.

As long as we have families living in our streets, hungry and sick, there are battles to be won.

As long as there are people among us who lack access to health care, there are battles to be won.

As long as we continue to treat families seeking refuge within our borders as criminals, there are battles to be won.

As long as there are any in this land who are not sharing in the blessings of liberty, there are battles to be won.

To those who are fighting those battles and who continue to fight, I salute you, for you are the true patriots.

Final thought: How do you show your patriotism?

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Twitter @PeteKoutoulas.