July 4 is always a time to reflect, to observe, and to celebrate. As a boy growing up in Boston, the day was a formal occasion: I would be dressed as for Sunday—blazer, bow tie, etc. (or in later years, in my Boy Scout uniform)—standing on Washington Street in Brookline, Massachusetts, with my hand over my heart or saluting as I watched the parade go by.
There was a marching band, of course. It was a happy, if solemn, occasion, tempered by the memory of World War II. Almost all the adults gathered on the street or marching had served or had family who had served. Many had lost loved ones. Brookline had and still has a large Jewish community: the enormity of the Holocaust was also a silent presence those days.
The war was long over before I was born but still very present in the minds of my parents, who both served: my father in North Africa and Italy, my mother in Washington and Houston during the war and in Tokyo and Nuremberg after, at the war crimes trials. After the parade we would go home for dinner or, some years, we would change out of our best clothes, get in the car, and go to Lars Anderson Park in Brookline for a picnic or barbecue.
We were, and are, a patriotic family. Both my parents rest at Bourne National Cemetery on Cape Cod. I often think of their service to our country, of their sacrifices and the very real dangers they faced so that Americans could remain a free people and liberate others around the world. Their memory is why I got involved in Democrats Abroad in 2017.
These days the word “patriot” can seem loaded. The sight of the flag, too. Yet, as Democrats, we have committed ourselves not only to fighting to preserve our rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but have fought hard battles to extend them to our neighbors irrespective of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Our commitment to the ideals embodied in the Constitution is what makes us Americans and patriots, not the number of flag decals on our clothes and cars. Let us claim the term “patriot” loudly and proudly, and fly the flag to let the world know our resolve and our commitment to our country.
The United States has always been and remains a deeply flawed nation and an improbable and often scary experiment. This is why we are called to reflect and observe: to take note of our past failings and our current setbacks, not to gloss over them. At the same time, we deserve to celebrate the parts of our history of which we can justifiably be proud—and there are many—and our role in them. Each of you will have a different recollection of something you have done or are doing to make the United States and the world a better place.
The work may seem insurmountable, impossible, futile at times: the truth is, the only time we fail is when we stop trying to succeed.
Let us therefore take courage from the many great examples our history provides us, and pride in our very real achievements. Let us continue the hard struggle for justice for all. Don’t hesitate to fly the flag and to describe yourself as a patriot. We know genuine from counterfeit. As someone once said, the best way to show that a stick is crooked is by putting a straight one next to it.
William Chapman, Chair, Democrats Abroad Mexico