J.M. Sorrell: Independence Day, tribalism and social justice

  • Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879. George K. Warren. (National Archives Gift Collection) Unknown

Published: 7/2/2019 6:00:10 PM

Independence Day is upon us. In 1776, themes of individual freedom and liberation from tyranny coexisted with slavery, the ongoing genocide of the people native to this land and norms that failed to offer women equality in any form.

Today, we seem to have parallel universes at play. While our country matures into an understanding that we have not been a perfect union — that our accomplishments run alongside our historical immoralities — we may move into a more ethical true democracy.

The other universe is the reaction to this evolution. Frederick Douglass said, “Be not discouraged. There is a future for you. The resistance encountered now predicates hope. Only as we rise do we encounter opposition.”

Apparently we are rising.

My columns in this paper have addressed the issues of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry under the guise of religion, civil rights of many kinds and what patriotism means to various people. Dictionary definitions of patriotism run the gamut from nationalism, chauvinism and xenophobia to devotion and loyalty.

To me, patriotism is commonly practiced as an organized religion that does not allow for questioning or critical thinking. It is tribal. And therein lies the paradox.

Our country, as stolen and claimed by western Europeans, was founded on somewhat well-meaning principles of independence; however, dissent from those in power is historically met with scorn and propaganda that demonizes the dissenter.

Megan Rapinoe. Colin Kaepernick. They defy a “norm” that hurts people of color, women and LGBT communities. I say that such dissention is patriotic. It is a nuanced and mature form of loyalty. It is independent thinking.

While the backlash of progress plays out nationally and internationally, an unprecedented number of brilliant and qualified women are running for president of the United States. They are challenging many elements of patriarchy. They are dissenters.

In June, I wrote a column asking readers to consider the misogynistic tendencies of drag. Caroline Enos is the only person in the published responses who did not turn me into a one-dimensional drag queen hater.

While I disagree with her statements, I imagine Enos and I could learn from each other. I am not transphobic or someone who hates men as some of the tribal responders stated. My social justice credentials and my core values decry such a shallow analysis.

I stand by my column. It is not divisive to demand feminist principles and to critique the fact that the stage events at Noho Pride were not fairly representative of our communities as they have been in the past. This is the form of loyalty I offer. There were other elements of the event that caused me concern and they will remain private.

I want Noho Pride to be successful. My “patriotism” has been demonstrated, and my dissent this year comes from a place of devotion.

Principles of freedom, independence and fairness are uniquely defined by each of us. For me, it is a privilege to have many of the freedoms I have, and it is my responsibility to help to make the world a better place through social justice leadership and advocacy for those in need.

I am feeling deep anger and sadness about what is happening to asylum seekers at and around the Mexican border. I can’t imagine that anyone with a heart considers our government’s actions and lack of action patriotic in any form.

This Independence Day, let’s decide that patriotism is not acquiescence or ignoring the suffering of our fellow humans. Our democracy will be truly exceptional when this situation is considered unthinkable. Until then, we have much work to do.

J.M. Sorrell is a health care advocate and social justice leadership trainer, and she has served as a wedding officiant for over 15 years. She was Noho Pride’s spokesperson 2012-2019.


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