On Fireworks and Patriotism

San Francisco smells like sulfur. The Fourth of July fireworks display has just ended, the nighttime fog red from the bursts of the rockets glare. As with every fireworks display, people gather on roofs and hillsides (and there are many in this city) to watch. All kinds of people: families, hipsters, older folks, singles, married, partners, gay, straight, white, black, asian, hispanic. It’s a patriotic and, to me, American, scene that people in other parts of the country don’t expect of us San Franciscans–godless, liberal, and nearly treasonous as we’re supposed to be.

But there’s a different sort of patriotism here than is commonly espoused as “patriotism” in the US, a type of patriotism that borders on annoying, so filled is it with passion and conviction. It’s the patriotism of Jefferson and Paine–men who believed in the separation of church and state, local governments, and the need, occasionally, for revolution. Not the crazy, live-in-a-Montana-compound sort of revolution, but instead an activist revolution from within, arising from reason, from Common Sense.

San Franciscans are impatient and angry about the political life of the US because we see the US as it one day will be and it looks like, well, San Francisco, simply because one day it must be more like us lest it perish–more tolerant, more diverse, more ecologically-friendly. We can see it so clearly, but have thus far been so perfectly blocked in making the country more like us. In fact, the US seems to be slipping away faster and faster towards the other direction, away from reason and tolerance and individual rights.

This sounds arrogant, I know, but I truly believe that time is on San Francisco’s side. Eventually, issues like the gay marriage amendment and “intelligent design” will fade away, to be studied like Plessy V. Ferguson and the Scopes Monkey Trial. If it doesn’t, well, I’m not sure what kind of America this will be then. Certainly not the America of Franklin or Lincoln.

So on this, Independence Day, let us celebrate independence, and recall the words of America The Beautiful:

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *