Thursday, May 03, 2007

Liberal Patriotism

I've cut the pieces for a red, white and blue quilt, and I realized something about it: I'm embarrassed to be making a patriotic quilt.

It started when I got the top for my red and white house quilt together, and had a lot of red and white prints left over. Then I learned about an organization called Quilts of Valor, which provides quilts to physically and psychologically wounded soldiers returning from Iraq. Jan, a member of my guild (and a fellow quilty blogger), has spear-headed collecting "wounded warrior" quilts from members of my quild, so I've seen some lovely red, white and blue quilts through the guild's show and tell. And then, cruising the Artful Quilter blog ring last week, I saw that fellow AQ blogger Debra is collecting quilts for wounded female soldiers. Links led me to this article in the Washington Post, which really moved me.

So, I decided to gather some blue fabrics to add to my red and white scraps and make a donation quilt or two. And as I've been working with this fabric, so many conflicting thoughts have crossed my mind.

I've never supported this war, and I still don't. But from what I can tell, the soldiers who've fought and been injured or killed in Iraq are victims of something bad. Even while they've believed that they were fighting for justice and democracy and other important principles, we've learned how this war resulted from so many lies and has been bungled from the outset, jeopardizing soldiers' lives and innocent people and our country's reputation in the world. And then there's the continuing horror of the poor conditions for injured soldiers in veterans' hospitals, not to mention the way war veterans are underpaid and ignored by the governent once they have returned from war. It's deeply troubling, and very very sad.

So I've been cutting these red, white and blue fabrics, and contemplating what it means to me to be patriotic. I took my fabric to a quilt retreat this week to cut pieces, and I realized when people asked me what I was making how much I felt I had to explain, lest my use of red, white and blue be deemed support for what this administration is perpetrating in the world. Every single time someone asked me, I felt embarrassed.

Wearing or displaying red, white and blue is usually viewed as a sign of patriotism. But right now in this country, the concept of patriotism has been co-opted by the Bush administration. You're patriotic if you agree, and you're unpatriotic if you don't. And isn't that a shameful state of affairs in our democracy?

I'm proud to be a liberal who can't wait to see Bush out of the White House. I love my country, but I detest this president and his policies. I feel for the soldiers who were injured in Iraq, and I'm angry that they were sent there in the first place. I can write letters to my representatives in Congress, and I can speak loudly with my votes.

And I can make quilts to show I care.


  1. Anonymous7:59 AM

    I feel your connundrum. (OK, maybe I even live your connundrum.) If it makes you feel any better, remember that military service members serve the country -- not it's current leadership. Administrations change, the US remains. Some service members support the current administration, some prefered the previous one. But that is neither here nor there. For them, they go where their country tells them to go and do what their country tells them to do. They are the doers, not the decision makers. So, supporting wounded soldiers, airmen and marines does not mean that you are supporting G.W., it means you are supporting the United States. THAT's patriotism! When anyone wants to blame my husband or his job for the mess we're in he always tells them to take it up with their congressperson; because in a Republic like ours, that's who's ultimately responsible. So, quilt away without guilt. The quilts will be non-partisanly appreciated. (Getting down off my soapbox now, and slinking away to work on my patriotic quilt which has been languishing in a bag for years.)

  2. Anonymous9:48 AM

    I'm glad you wrote this post. As an American living abroad, I struggle to 'represent' my country in a time when I disagree with many things being done in my/our name. It's too easy to be unpatriotic and slap a Canadian flag on your backpack. It's much more difficult to be patriotic in a different way. Good luck with your quilt. Quilts have a way of healing - the maker and the recipient. Maybe there's hope for healing our country and the world, too.

  3. The red, white and blue scraps are really beautiful, Diane, and I can't wait to see what you make from them.

    It is so sad that "patriotism" has been co-opted by the current administration, so there's that ugly "if you're not with us, you're against us" attitude.

    I remember flying the flag at our house in Novato on the 4th of July a couple of years ago, and my son arriving from Berkeley and giving me a hard time about it. I really resent that the outward display of "patriotism" expressed in the flying of a flag somehow puts you in one camp or another.

    So, I'm really glad you're doing these quilts for the Quilts of Valor project. I'll be watching to see how it goes.

    And here in Australia, I'm constantly feeling the heat of being the local American and having to apologize constantly for the actions of my country. Just remember, less than two years and this administration is HISTORY!

  4. You always express it so well and I couldn't agree more. I so disagree with this war and the Bush administration, but feel the need to do something for those who have suffered as a result of the terrible decision to go to war. Thanks for your efforts!!

  5. I agree with your connundrum. When did disagreeing with an administration become something that means you don't love your country? If you look at history -- if that is the case, I have a long list of "unpatriotic" Americans. It starts with Thomas Jefferson. It includes Madison. Lincoln can be added to the mix. Franklin would be appaled by the very notion. Frankly, I would much rather be in their company than to blindly follow with an administration I don't agree with.

    It is a shame that many don't understand the difference between blindly following the administration's agenda and not supporting the men and women who bravely serve their country -- not the president, but the people and the ideals they stand for. Make your quilt with pride, care, and compassion. As for feeling you have to explain -- if you figure that one out, please let me know the answer you come up with. It might work for me.

  6. I hear you too. I have stopped putting my flag out on national holidays for the same reason and I resent it bitterly that I have to feel that flying the flag, for heaven's sake, comes across as support for the current administration and the war. Maybe we need to start a "liberal patriotism" movement and reclaim a part of our heritage for those of us who feel that being part of the loyal opposition IS part of being a patriotic American.

  7. Anonymous10:11 PM

    Dianne's choice of the word "co-opted" is perfect. I have been against George Bush since he was governor of Texas, and every miserable day of his administration has been a burden on my soul. This war is unconscionable, but he rests well at night I believe, despite the Lovely Laura saying recently that NO one feels the pain of this war more than George. Really? Let him sacrifice one of HIS children and then I might listen to him.

    I count the days till his removal from office, and I resent like hell being characterized as unpatriotic because I disagree with this war. Civilian Americans living abroad have my sympathy--we are ruined in the eyes of the world. Sorry for the rant (it is YOUR blog, after all!), but I'm fed up with his pea-brained arrogance and think too many of us suffer in silence.

  8. I don't fly the flag anymore, either, which is a shame, because I do love my country. But as someone said, the flag and patriotism has been co-opted by this administration, and I can't bring myself to fly it when to me it represents this terrible war and the administration that started it. On Monday, Memorial Day, someone came around the neighborhood and planted little plastic flags in everyone's yard. I was angry at their nerve, and I pulled the flag out. I went back and forth about it in my mind; I wanted to support those who have given their lives for this country, but I don't believe simply flying the flag does it; that's akin to putting a "Support the Troops" ribbon sticker on our cars. How about we support the troops by developing a plan for bringing them home? And once we get them home, how about we provide them with quality medical care and benefits? How about we honor our dead service members by only risking our soldiers' lives when absolutely necessary? Sorry to rant. Btw, love your site.