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Discharging about U.S. Patriotism

I attended the International Care of the Environment Leaders’ Conference near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, last August. While there, I led a topic table on discharging about U.S. patriotism, with Heather Hay’s1 assistance.

I convened the table because the night before, during the culture sharing, many USers had chosen patriotic songs instead of songs or skits about the environment. I had understood this as an attempt to contradict with pride the shame that USers can feel about imperialism. However, it had appeared that unaware domination patterns were sometimes overpowering the contradiction. This may have been due to the large number of people participating in these anthem-like songs, the particular songs chosen, and the fact that we were in Canada, not the United States.

Some USers had looked uncomfortable, and some hadn’t been singing along. Many of us Canadians had just felt numb and confused. It’s easy for us to stay silent, because of our internalized oppression, so I decided to convene a table to break that silence. Talking about it seemed like a necessary step in interrupting and discharging our part of the patterns.

We were four Canadians and three USers, including one Jew from each country. All of us were white. Two women of the global majority from outside the United States had wanted to attend but had a previous engagement. They had told me earlier that they’d felt afraid during some of the singing.

I began by welcoming everyone and emphasizing how much I love USers. Heather said that it is wonderful to have an opportunity to work on oppressor material,2 that we want to be free from it so we can think about all people and be close to them. She encouraged us to take pride in our identity—for example, as USers or Canadians—as well as discharge about any ways we may feel better, worse, smarter, less smart than others. She said that our goal is to free ourselves from patterns of nationalism and patriotism.

I asked everyone two questions: What was it like if you were singing the patriotic songs? What was it like if you were listening to them? Then we had a mini-session, with each USer paired with a Canadian.

I am grateful to the USers who came for their courage and warm hearts. I’m also grateful to the Canadians—they helped me know that I wasn’t imagining the experience and that it was important to meet. I look forward to more chances to work together on these distresses.

Bill Horne
Wells, British Columbia, Canada

1 Heather Hay, a Canadian, is the International Liberation Reference Person for Musicians.
2 “Material” means distress.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00