Last week there was a massive demonstration in the streets of Santa Monica, and not only were there no arrests or tear gas… I think everybody had a pretty good time.
If our energy has yet to be made of corn, our parade had a head start by being an old-fashioned Fourth of July event with gusto and participation on all sides. People signed up and got involved and marched, while many other citizens made a point of getting to the curbs to watch with their kids. All the traditional elements were present, including a marching band and a shiny red fire truck. There was also a 225-pound part-time cynic carefully and respectfully carrying an American flag, and that was yours truly.
I was delighted and honored to escort the stars and stripes as part of the Santa Monica Mirror’s own brigade. The Mirror contingent was also positioned a little better this year than last, when we were the final element in the parade before the street sweeper and a guy handing out pizza coupons. But about that flag…
Last week Parade Magazine, the Sunday papers’ supplement that survives on advertising for Elvis bourbon decanters and $15 hearing aids, featured our two presidential hopefuls on its cover. They each took a shot at short essays explaining “patriotism.” Explaining it, I guess, to us. Seems we’re currently not sure what patriotism is, although Parade Magazine regularly tries to provoke in small ways with such curious piffle as “Are Your Kids Flame-Retardant?” or “Which Dog Breeds Make the Best Square Dancers?”
Still, one can imagine a kind of confusion of feelings right now about otherwise simple things such as marching with or decorating your home with a flag. We’re currently struggling with how support for our troops translates into bringing them home. Only months ago, thick-skulled critics went after Obama for not wearing a flag on his lapel. If you actively protested Vietnam in your youth, can your home then bear the same flag that’s waving on the house next door where a son or daughter has been lost in Iraq?
Of course it can, and it should. If this past Fourth of July was any indication of a unified current mood, part of that would be that we’re well past haggling about symbols. We can fete the flag and America’s birthday, and that spirit is real because we have a sense that our misguided emotions about our country – the ones that were manipulated to drive us into a war – are about to be reclaimed and become better guided. And we’re all sharing in that, right?
Yes, we are and here’s where I’m going to justify how a “part-time” cynic gets to carry the flag in a parade: Because as a nation we all shared in the suffering and piracy that brought about this assertive response of a female candidate and black candidate and an election we believe will turn back the plundering of America.
An April 6 New York Times article concerning Barack Obama’s campaign efforts in white working class neighborhoods quoted a homeowner visited by Obama supporters who believed that “by the time this came[a black candidate] I thought I’d be flying around in a spaceship or driving some kind of little Jetson’s vehicle.” That sense of a wonder-filled now imbues a lot of people these days. And I like to think that right behind that is a sense that we can once again share symbols and not feel we have to qualify ourselves. Because regardless of the outcome in November, we’re all currently in the approaching experience together. It’s the “What’ll Happen With Obama Ride” at Six Flags Over America… and we’re all crammed into the front car.
How wonderful if we can continue this transcendent sharing in regard to global warming, eventually equating energy independence with a patriotism of the sort that saw Americans acting in harmony in regard to resources during World War II.
Some would quickly point out that it was deep divisions, a politics of fear, and a willingness to lazily relinquish the 2000 elections that got us to Bush which got us to Obama. But that’s like saying that late is the same as never, and it’s not. It’s better. This year’s Fourth of July parade down Main Street wasn’t a simulation or recreation of a time gone by that we could comfortably distance ourselves from. It was a real and involving celebration of the shared sense that things are turning. This year we sought out the colors of celebration not just from a sense of tradition, but because they also symbolized that we’re awake now and taking in what’s happening around us.