As the nation marks this Independence day with traditional fanfare—hot dogs, flag-waving, and fireworks—one small community in Taos, New Mexico takes a very different approach. Here in the quaint village of Arroyo Seco, the community honors those who have spoken out against government overreach and abuse, suggesting true patriotism is about improving one's country rather than blindly singing its praises. The colorful parade is full of signs that read, "in gratitude for activists, whistleblowers, and muckrackers" and "Whistleblowers are our heroes."
The annual Arroyo Seco July 4th parade is located at the base of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in northern New Mexico. It began nearly two decades ago with a handful of participants on horseback making their way down the village’s mile-long thoroughfare. From its humble beginnings, the parade has grown into a lively affair that attracts large crowds of locals and tourists alike. The parade seeks to redefine patriotism by applauding the contributions of those who dare to challenge their government's policies and insist on a more perfect democracy. During last year's parade, a participant held up a sign reminding the country, "There is more than one way to be a patriot". While many Americans celebrate today by hanging flags, attending barbecues and watching fireworks, it's worth asking what patriotism means -- and should mean. Here in Arroyo Seco, the community has answered that question by saying true patriotism is about struggling for a more just, equitable, and compassionate nation.
At the 2014 parade, over seventy prayer flag banners celebrated those who work for social change. The legendary activists Dolores Huerta and César Chávez of the United Farm Workers of America were among those honored and many participants waved signs saying, "Sí, se puede!". The parade also featured giant puppets of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, atomic bomb victim Sadako Sasaki, pioneering independent journalist Amy Goodman, and Native American activist Winona LaDuke. The parade also celebrated the contributions of whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Both individuals risked their personal wellbeing to alert their compatriots about government wrongdoing. Both were punished for daring to challenge the secrecy and excesses of their own government. Both viewed patriotism as an active process of checking the abuses of their government for the greater good of their country.
On Independence Day, the nation should look to the small village of Arroyo Seco for guidance. Rather than unreflectively celebrating the status quo, let's remember those who have worked tirelessly to improve our country at great personal risk: the activists, the whistleblowers, and the muckrackers.
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Deena Guzder is a news producer at the national TV/radio show Democracy Now! She has reported on human rights issues across the globe and is the author of Divine Rebels (Chicago Review Press 2011). Guzder is also a member of the Blossom Hill Foundation. To find out more, please visit www.DeenaGuzder.com