"Patriotism," as my colleague Dominique laid out in her blog last year, "is the devotion to, and vigorous support for one's country." I’m not sure that patriotism is something the American people are having much of lately, and rightly so, especially given the way in which the events of 2020 have unfolded. It’s hard not to feel despondent about the state of the world. My hope in writing this blog is to inspire a new type of patriotism. Not one for love of country or flag, but for love of people. Humans have been living together for over 100,000 years and we’ve only made it this far by supporting each other. Healthy communities create a healthy society; after joining AmeriCorps I discovered why volunteering time, skills and knowledge is the sincerest form of patriotism.
I’ve been a transient person since graduating high school in 2013, but after moving to Reno, I’ve felt rooted to the community. I knew next to nothing about Reno when I first moved here, but my time with Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation has laid bare some of the hardships that Nevadans face. I feel a sense of obligation to this community that I can’t say I’ve felt elsewhere. For me, there was always this disconnect between myself and the other communities I’ve lived in, but if I’m being honest, I never really took the time to get involved or consider the mutual benefits of volunteering. That-- is privilege.
Civic Engagement is the process in which people come together to develop the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make a difference in the civic life of a community. It’s no mystery that the quality of public life is directly related to a community's civic engagement (Putnam 2000). Now is a time to stand up for one another, and we do this through being more civically engaged. But what does that look like? Social media is great, but a post on Instagram, a retweet, or even this blog can only do so much. True connections are made when we get to know our neighbors, who they are, where they come from, and their struggles. These connections help us understand how we fit into the larger community, gets us out of our comfort zone, allowing us to be vulnerable and learn from one another. A study conducted by political scientist Robert D. Putnam found that, on paper, local and regional governments tended to look very similar; however, the ones that functioned the best and held the highest quality of life tended to be in communities with a high level of civic engagement (Putnam 2000). Volunteering is how we, as individuals, become informed about the issues within our communities, and in turn, become more civically engaged.
No, you don’t have to move across the country or join AmeriCorps, that's just my experience. If, however, you find things on the television confusing, I ask you to ponder an important question: When was the last time I helped at a local nonprofit or volunteered my time to something I’m passionate about? Time is the greatest resource we can provide, and the more time we are willing to spend in our communities, the less time it is going to take to see real change. As Mellina White, founder of The Seattle Conservative, wrote in her blog “Use THIS moment as an opportunity to expand your circle. Real societal change starts with humans connecting and treating each other as individuals, not categories of identity.
So how does this tie into patriotism? Well, patriotism is the devotion to and vigorous support for one's country, but a country can only be supported by the people that reside in it. Building a better country starts with building stronger, more cohesive communities, and that starts with people putting in the time to get to know and understand each other. Volunteering is the easiest way to make a difference. It seems odd given the circumstances of the past few months but, I’m optimistic about the future so I leave you dear reader with one more quote from the beloved political comedian Jon Stewart: "America is not natural, natural is tribal, we’re fighting against thousands of years of human behavior and history to create something that no one has ever [done]. That’s what’s exceptional about America … it ain’t easy [but] it's an incredible thing.”
Check out the resources mentioned in this post: