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Patriotism, circa 2004

"YOU CAN'T call yourself patriotic, your politics are all wrong." So said friend of mine in a recent conversation. It got me thinking this Patriots Day. We've celebrated this anniversary for years in Massachusetts. "Listen my children and you shall hear . . ." On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and a few companions sounded the alarm that 700 British troops were advancing toward Concord.

Colonial Minutemen were ready when the British arrived on Lexington Green in the early morning hours of April 19. Shots were fired and the conflagration began. Later that day in Concord, the "shot heard round the world" precipitated a bloody battle, and the British retreated from the thousands who had answered the call to arms.

Patriots. It was clear in 1775.

Now we run a marathon to symbolize that ride, and few of us have to raise arms to defend our home. So who, in 2004, can lay claim to the term "patriot"? Is it good to be a patriot? Do I have to vote a particular party?

Patriotism has become a hot commodity since 9/11. Madison Avenue exhorts Americans to prove their allegiance to God and country through conspicuous consumption. The pursuit of Humvees is proof of happiness, and free checking means a free America. It's OK, I guess. The Sons of Liberty, those audacious rabble rousers who met in secret to foment a revolution, were just as concerned with economic freedom as they were with the right to bear arms.

But here in Boston, on the Freedom Trail, we have a different view of the meaning of words like patriotism. Every time we turn a corner in this splendid city, another historic place is there to remind us that the people of 18th century Boston Town were not afraid to declare their independence, and they were deadly serious about what it meant to be a patriot.

We can imagine them, 5,000 strong in the benches and the balconies of the Old South Meeting House as they prepared for the Boston Tea Party.

We can hear the rants and shouts of a weary but determined throng assembled under the balcony of Old State House as the words "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were read to them for the first time from the Declaration of Independence. The meaning of patriotism was clear to them all. It meant they would be free to openly debate one another and challenge the government of their making. They would educate their children as they chose, and worship if they chose. They would write their own laws, enforce them, and change them if they needed changing. They would have these freedoms if it meant they had to die in the street for them, and a lot of them did. These liberties are commonplace to us now, but at the time the American Revolution began they were little more than the dreams of those few determined people.   Continued...

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