by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 23 May 2006)
In an attempt to define what it means to be a "patriot," perhaps it is time to explore some of the basic traits of patriotism, such as love of country and loyalty to democracy.
Is it patriotic to toe the line? Is it patriotic to keep one's mouth shut because if you open it you would automatically spew out words of disagreement with a political leader? Not at all. In fact, voicing dissension against any corrupt government official makes a person even more patriotic than the one who silently submits.
I like the gall of Benjamin Franklin who proposed the words, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God," for the American seal. I cannot think of a more fitting phrase to describe patriotism in its rawest of forms.
Let's also consider the noble words of Thomas Jefferson. Now this was a man who was not afraid of the voice of dissent. In 1786 a former US Revolutionary Army captain named Daniel Shays led a rebellion of farmers against unsettled economic conditions and against politicians and laws which were grossly unfair to farmers and working people in general.
Concerning this rebellion, Jefferson wrote, "God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion ... the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
Does unity come at the sacrifice of personal convictions? Should a true patriot shelve inward morality and decency to stand unified with an action contrary to what he or she believes to be right and just? In Jefferson's words, God forbid! There is nothing at all patriotic about such behaviour.
On the contrary, this country was founded on the very nature of rebellion. Guyana refused to be chained to the control of a foreign ruler. She would not toe the line. This is love of country and when the leaders of a country acknowledge the right of the people to dissent, democracy reigns in the place of fear.
In that same spirit, I chose to oppose the war in Iraq. I would gladly support any military action by the United States that would defend its people, their freedom or the principles on which the country was founded. In fact, given the opportunity, I would take up arms and fight to the death to defend it myself. However, I vehemently refuse to support an unprovoked act of aggression against another nation.
Instead, I chose to take up my pen and exercise my freedom of speech with dissent. What good are these freedoms if never put to any use? Do you have a pen? Do you have a voice? If so, put your patriotism to the test and let your voice be heard on the points you take issue with in Guyana.
Patriotism can sometimes be subjective because each individual can interpret it differently. Webster's Dictionary defines a patriot as someone "who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests." I like that definition because it includes someone like me who doesn't necessarily agree with the actions of a leader but strongly supports the country's authority and interests.
Of course, the problem created by this definition for me is that I do not believe the United States ever had the authority to be in Iraq. However, I suppose my patriotism is as strong as any American's, perhaps stronger since my support is in what the country's authority and interests should be as opposed to what they actually are at the present time.
Likewise, there are so many Guyanese who love their country with all of their heart and who heartily support what this country’s authority and interests should be as opposed to what they actually are at the present time. These are the true patriots of Guyana – the ones who refuse to give up no matter how bleak the circumstances.
Considering one more piece of advice from Jefferson in a letter to a Virginia physician, he said, "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." I'd say these statements show Jefferson had a firm grip on what it meant to be patriot. In other words, when you voice your dissent you become the very embodiment of patriotism.
In a speech delivered by Dr. Cheddi Jagan at his swearing-in ceremony on October 9, 1992, he ended his discourse by declaring, “Long Live National Unity. Long Live Guyana.”
I would like to note the omission of any leader's name in that statement. This omission is noteworthy because Guyana is not about a single person or a solitary party, but about the people as a whole. Therefore, the loyalty of the people should be to the country and its best interests and not to a person or group.
A real patriot remains steadfast in his or her loyalty to the nation regardless of pressure to bend to political sway. If you count yourself to be a true patriot, don’t allow your loyalty to country become sullied by any politician who divides Guyana.
There is a constant demand on the hearts of Guyanese to choose a side – but if there are always two sides the country will never be unified. If you want to know who to vote for in the next election, watch for the party that promises unity instead of retribution.
If there is one party that can put aside the fear tactics and bring the people together instead of tearing them apart – this is the party that should lead the nation. Let your patriot’s heart lead the way during the elections this year.