(Photo by Dayland Shannon)

For the Fourth of July, we asked a diverse set of Bay Area residents to share their thoughts about American patriotism during this remarkable and challenging year. Read their responses (below) to the following questions:

1. What does it mean to be patriotic in today’s world?

2. Is there a book, film, music or art that inspires you this holiday weekend? 

Lorrain Taylor

Profession: founder of 1000 Mothers to Prevent Violence

Age: 63

City of residence: San Leandro

Patriotism: I often refer to the Bible. I draw my conclusion from when Jesus said and asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” And he said to love your neighbor as yourself. I believe that in America we are all neighbors. If we can love, and if we see our neighbor in need, we should try and help them. If we see a neighbor not wearing a mask, we should share with them. If they don’t have food to eat, help them with food. That’s how we can build a community and, consequently, build America; build a nation.

(Photo by Fred Seibert)

Inspiration: I’m fond of “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. Even though he wrote it decades ago when I was a child, it’s still relevant today because we, as African Americans, are still hoping for that change. Even though it feels that it may never come, we still believe and have faith that a change is going to come. In the song Cooke wrote, “I was born by a river in a little tent, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since.” Now, even though we are not physically all held down by the knee of an officer taking our life (in the case of George Floyd), economically African Americans are being choked out of the game. If we’re going to hang in there we have to feel some sort of hope that change might come. I think, in a nutshell, we have to not be afraid of change when it does come, but still hope for that change to come.

Ashley Fissori

Age: 20

Profession: preschool teacher

City of residence: Antioch

Patriotism: Before Trump, and back during my grandparent’s generation, “patriotic” meant standing up for the U.S.A. and the red, white and blue and really talking about the positives that the U.S. had on its citizens and how well it would treat others. People were taught that the U.S. was like the “savior of everyone,” that’s especially the reputation they had during World War II where the U.S. acted like they were the ones to save the Jews from Nazi Germany. Now, because Trump is in office and everything going on with the Black Lives Matter movement and the Yemen crisis, I believe patriotism has basically died off or at least it has evolved in a way where it no longer means you’re supporting the country. Instead, you are sticking up for human rights and what is right. I’ve been advocating for Black Lives Matters and why [Black people] deserve more rights. No life is worth less than another. I guess for me, being patriotic means that you stand up for what’s right and you fight for the rights of others who don’t have them. You advocate for change within a system and outside a system. Patriotism for the people should be about giving those who don’t have one.

Inspiration: There’s a song by Macklemore [and Ryan Lewis] called “White Privilege II” that talks about how a white person rapping fits into the system. He’s saying that he’s taking this part of Black culture and whitewashing it, and he’s trying to figure out where in the whole scheme of things does he fit in for trying to help the fight for Black Lives Matter. He supports the movement but sees that there’s a line that’s crossed; he said, “what can I say without making it about me,” and instead be an ally supporting Black lives. That song resonates with me because I feel the same way. I want to support, but what can I say without overstepping and what can I do without making the movement about me? 

Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft

Age: 68

Profession: mayor of Alameda and attorney

City of residence: Alameda

Patriotism: As an elected leader of my city, which is grappling with issues of racial justice or racial injustice that we’ve really seen highlighted this summer, I am focusing on the part of our pledge of allegiance that calls for liberty and justice for all. I live in Alameda. I grew up here. I am the first Arab-American mayor of my city. I am a lawyer, but don’t practice law actively these days. This is a moment where we need to sit down and take a hard look at where we make that pledge a reality. My city is putting forth activities to look at a number of areas where people of color are not treated the same as whites. We’re looking at police policies and regulations. That’s something we’re working on and will continue to focus on. It’s a different Fourth of July, but it’s a moment where we can really come together and make change. That’s my focus as a mayor. We have to seize the moment and we can do that. I’m hopeful.

(Image courtesy of Disney+)

Inspiration: I am a big fan of the musical “Hamilton” and I am so excited that it is going to be livestreamed July 3. There’s such a timely message and lessons in U.S. history [in the play]. I find myself thinking back to the lyrics, “this is not a moment, it’s a movement.” I’m also excited that in the city of Alameda, we’re trying to reach out throughout the community and increase people’s awareness of the inequality that has existed in our country and our city. We are doing a city-wide book club, and our librarian suggested some books that the city wanted to choose from. It’s called “Stamps from the Beginning” by Iram Kendi and it is described as the definitive history of racist ideas in America. There’s a lot of books out there and this is a time when we all should be trying to educate ourselves more. Everyone’s ordering books about racial justice and I think that is a really hopeful sign.

Kaelin Kragh

Age: 19

Profession: student at University of Colorado Boulder

City of residence: Greenbrae

Patriotism: Being patriotic in today’s world, to me, means you’re kind of proud of the country you came from and that is demonstrated through your actions. Patriotic Americans ideally celebrate Fourth of July or vote for policies and candidates in elections because you care about the well-being of the nation. I vote because I care about who runs my country and their policies.

Inspiration: When I think of music that is patriotic in an American sense, I think of country music. Personally, I don’t listen to country music but I think it definitely is a stereotype that goes along with being a patriotic American on Fourth of July. If I envision a classic American Fourth of July, I think of a barbeque with kids swimming and parents listening to country music and drinking beers. Yet, this is not how I celebrate.

Shayna Cohen

Age: 20

Profession: student at Los Medanos College

City of residence: Oakland

Patriotism: For me, being patriotic is standing up to racist, unfair systems. It’s about contributing to your community and the people around you. Thinking about the deeper meaning about what it means to be an American. America is supposed to be an inclusive country, so everyone should work to understand who they live around and everyone’s beliefs and upbringing.

Inspiration: There’s this new J. Cole song [called “Snow on Tha Bluff”] and J. Cole is Black and he’s talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, putting in his beliefs. Also the movie “The Help” I found really educational and important. It touches on a white savior idea and plot that I think people should learn about.

Melissa Stephens

Age: 52

Profession: middle school teacher

City of residence: Greenbrae

Patriotism: I think there is a lot of divisiveness and anger right now, so it is hard to discern where the true meaning of patriotism lies. I agree with Colin Kaepernick kneeling and his right to peaceful protest under the First Amendment, and would kneel with him. For me, that is one of the most patriotic acts we can take in a country that allows its citizens to speak freely. No one is being harmed, but the message is being convoluted. So, someone who feels we are disrespecting the flag or dishonoring our military through this action would call me “unpatriotic”. For kneeling, some people would label me un-American. When patriotism becomes a victim of “you versus me” and “us against them,” that’s where there is a big problem. We need more unity. 

This reminds me of a recent conflict I had with my new neighbors. When they moved in, we went down to greet them. They were military, like my husband, and very easy-going. As I do, I asked about their politics and beliefs to see where we would connect. When they told me who they voted for and their personal stances on several hot button topics, I immediately went, “Oh, we will never be friends.” But I ended up getting drinks with them and we talked. Even though many of their views were opposite of mine, we were able to still respect each other. If I stayed in a place of judgment and anger, I would have missed out on this incredible new relationship.

So, I think being patriotic means we care enough about our country to break down our “I’m right” walls. It’s about mutual respect and less judgement. 

Inspiration: I am drawn to the hymn “We Shall Overcome.” It is such a simple song, but it holds a lot of hope. I think a lot of us still believe that we shall overcome. It’s going to take some difficult conversations and effort from each of us, especially those of us who come from a place of privilege. But I do believe that if we just stop to listen and come to a middle ground, we will overcome.

Joe Jedeikin

Age: 93

Profession: retired lawyer

City of residence: Oakland

Patriotism: My answer to this is no different than if I was answering the same question ten years ago or 100 years ago. I think we must conduct ourselves to obey and support our Constitution and all municipal, state and federal laws. If someone disagrees with any laws, the patriotic thing to do is peacefully demonstrate against those laws and contact the applicable legislature to request enactment of an amendment of the law in question. If we disagree with an administrative rule or proclamation, we should oppose the same by requesting the mayor, governor or president to withdraw the same, and if it is not withdrawn to vote against that executive in the next election. I really believe in the power our votes can have.

Inspiration: There is a book that inspires our celebration of the Fourth of July in 1776, when 13 English colonies declared their independence from the rule of the king of England. This book, called the Constitution of the United States, was enacted [almost] 13 years later culminating in the establishment of [our government and] independence. It was the Constitution that defined our government as a democracy. Thus, when celebrating the 4th of July, we are really celebrating the miracle that, against all odds, we have continuously existed as a free democracy for 244 years.