Baby, it’s complicated.
But like all complicated relationships, underneath it all, I love you.
It wasn’t always like this. We’ve been on quite a journey.
It started when I was eleven—my first week of Middle School. I heard my mother on the phone with my father in the other room.
“Oh my god. That’s terrible. Ok, ok, ok”
She came to get me to tell me that someone had crashed two planes into the World Trade Center. You might recall the event that I am talking about.
We didn’t know who had done it, or why or where. We were just watching it replay on the TV, again and again in complete shock and horror. I had no idea what the World Trade Center, or even New York City really was in the first place. I was eleven.
I just knew that it was horrible.
Everyone was talking about it. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who had a narrow escape. I can’t imagine what it was like to be in New York and to know someone who had not had a narrow escape.
One month later, I was watching the news with my family (I was a weird eleven year old), and the news broke that the United States had begun to bomb Afghanistan.
In my Middle School classroom, we shared news stories every morning—as eleven year olds, we were pretty tapped into things. A boy raised his hand and I assumed he would bring up that we were bombing Afghanistan, so I put my hand down.
“Barry Bonds got his 500th home run this weekend!”
I raised my hand tentatively. The teacher called on me.
“I think we started bombing Afghanistan this weekend.”
It’s one year later, and now we’re in a different social studies classroom. We were still bombing Afghanistan—but this time we were bombing Iraq, too. We were having a debate in my social studies classroom about whether or not this was right (remember, I grew up in the Bay Area).
Those who were for invading Iraq sat on one side of the room, those who were against it sat on the other. Gradually, more and more went and sat on the pro side of the room, seventh graders spewing out the ideology of Fox News that in order to have peace, we needed to have war.
I tried to see things from their perspective, trying desperately to turn needing war for peace into logic. Remember, I was a weird, emerging hyper-politicized twelve- year old who needed friends in Middle School.
Soon, I was the only one on the anti-war side of the room.
Was I crazy?
I was politically dissident. I was the only dark haired ethnic girl in a room full of blondes. I had yet to discover eyebrow tweezing, so even my forehead seemed like it was paying homage to Saddam Hussein.
I was un-American.
Luckily in high school I found some fellow social outcasts to befriend. I also found a socialist self-proclaimed comparative politics teacher to inappropriately fall in love with from a distance, a wonderful English teacher who introduced me to George Orwell and a drama teacher who remains a dear friend to this day who was not afraid to vent his political opinions—despite the school guidelines expressly prohibiting that.
I moved to New York City for college—and got out of my tiny town in California. The wars that started when I was mid puberty, had only escalated and I was very much a woman. They grew a lot more than my boobs ever did.
But Barack Obama won the election!
Everything was supposed to change. The troops would come home. We would have healthcare. The world wouldn’t hate us anymore.
I was proud to be an American for the first time—ever.
It has been eleven years since I raised my hand and told my class that we were bombing Afghanistan. We still are. Supposedly, we have withdrawn from Iraq—but we have decimated the country, and the destruction from the chronic diseases—both physical and psychological—has yet to take its toll. I’m not proud to be part of a country that has this global legacy.
However, last year something happened—Americans rose up.
Now, I have many mixed feelings and emotions about the Occupy movement—something I will probably have to save for another blog post where I do not divulge my entire perspective on national security circa 7th grade—but it did something magical. It criticized America—but with love and desire to reclaim America from a corrupt government and a corrupt culture. It criticizes corporate personhood, and the culture that endorses it, demands accountability for the banks that catapulted us into a financial crisis, and brought together dangerous people with revolutionary ideas.
It brought together the types of people who sat alone on the anti-war side of the room in their Middle School classrooms.
I realized that I wasn’t crazy that whole time.
So, today we celebrate a revolution. We celebrate proclaiming our independence from a country whose values we felt were aristocratic, exclusionary and claustrophobic. We celebrate the bravery and imagination to chart our own course as a people and create, rather than adhere to our future. I hope that we the people can reclaim our independence—and what it means to be American, away from how our politicians have defined it through destructive foreign policy and exclusionary immigration decisions that happen behind closed doors in Washington, DC.
I hope that we, the American people who will reclaim our independence are on the frontier of creating a new country, shaped by our unique identities and voices that is more economically and socially just, and a much better neighbor to our fellow citizens of the world.
When I look around at the dedicated, hard-working, creative and loving Americans who are coming together and doing everything in their power to make that happen, the weight I felt that I didn’t belong for so many years is lifted and I feel proud to be an American.
I’m gonna go drink beer now.