A note on patriotism, freedom, and justice

California Donor Table
4 min readJul 27, 2021

By Sylvie Lerner

During the month of July, because of July 4th, there are often patriotic celebrations of freedom and independence. There’s a general sense of patriotism that is not progressive. We wanted to share stories of what we believe real patriotism is: the work that our partners and grantees do day in and day out, for their communities, and ultimately, the work that makes this country better.

Here, three of our grantee partners, Irene Kao of Courage California, Sky Allen of Inland Empire United, and Meharn Kodabandeh, answer three questions about what patriotism, freedom, and justice mean to them and to their community.

We asked them:

What does patriotism mean to you?

What does freedom mean for your community?

What does justice look like for your community?

Irene Kao, Executive Director of Courage California

Patriotism means a love of country to me. Because of the long and fraught history of the United States, I hold a tension of wanting to reject a term that is tied to genocide, slavery, and stolen land, and to also reclaim it for the new majority of us who really are the visionaries for what this country could be and are fighting to get us there. Nothing symbolizes this tension more than our Constitution, which was never for anyone other than white, male landowners, but was also based on (appropriated from?) the Iroquois Great Law of Peace developed by the Six Nations.

To me, freedom means the ability for you, your family, and your community to live a full and healthy life unencumbered by oppressive and exploitative systems and powers. I think about the concept of freedom a lot, since it has been co-opted and repurposed to mean a life without barriers and consequences. I like to think about freedom in the context of how even people who currently benefit from denying the freedom of others would experience it with a more holistic framing, not an individual one.

Justice looks like joy. Connection. Truth. Good health. Supported people and families. Community governance, including sovereignty for Indigenous communities.

Sky Allen, Program Director of Inland Empire United

Patriotism is an expression of love. For me, when I love something or someone, I do everything in my power to honor the best of them and help them work through their weaknesses. I am extremely grateful to be an American, but I can’t love my country and ignore its shortcomings. In organizing, in offering constructive criticism, in advocating for change, I can help America be the best version of itself, and that’s true patriotism to me.

Freedom is the ability to live in your truth without compromising the safety or quality of life of the people around you. It is something I wish for us all, but unfortunately none of us fully have access to it.

Justice is freedom, it’s accountability, it’s equity. To me, freedom is a reflection of your quality of life, and justice is your ability to access and secure that freedom. If freedom is not accessible to all, then it is not just. If freedom can be taken away, it is not free or just. If one person’s freedom relies on the oppression and exploitation of others, it is not just. The two have to go hand in hand in order for both to exist for our, and all, communities.

Mehran Khodabandeh, Senior Political Strategist for Working Families Party

Patriotism is often something people use as a false flag. Brandishing it for their own uses. Actual patriotism, to me, means sometimes going against the grain. Pushing for those most vulnerable and who may not have the opportunity to share their opinions. A real patriot uplifts those around them and enables them to shine in their own right.

Freedom for a community means that we are delivering on equity. Everyone has access to clean water, clean air, an education just to name a few things. A community where your neighborhood or income bracket doesn’t keep opportunities away. Where you can succeed and that success allows everyone to thrive together.

Justice in my community is not living in fear/distrust of those who hold power. Trusting them to make a decision that will make lives easier and not put profits over people. That we are committed to nourishing the souls and minds of the folx living with us and not driving by pocketbooks or special interests.

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Thank you to Irene, Sky, and Mehran for their work, and expression of true patriotism. We urge all of you to explore what working towards freedom and justice in your community looks like, and to keep pushing toward what Dorian Warren of Capital and Main calls progressive patriotism. “It’s work. It’s the commitment of figuring out our joint future with people different from you or me. I think a progressive patriotism has a very broad sense of belonging and inclusivity, which is one of the best aspects of the American tradition.”

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California Donor Table

The California Donor Table is a statewide community of donors who pool their funds to make investments in communities of color so they have the power they need.