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  • Rebecca Branle

The Stolen Words

I feel like the last few years have been the years of stolen words. Patriots, Liberty, Freedom - all these words have been co-opted by swaths of ignorant and angry white folks. Like children having temper tantrums, they’re acting out against the idea of progress.

They’ve stolen our words but they won’t steal our cities.

On Saturday night a group calling themselves The Patriot Front came to Philly, carrying banners that read “Reclaim America.” They jumped out of Penske trucks and vomited their hate onto the streets of Philadelphia. It wasn’t long until Philadelphians said their piece, showed their collective muscle, and chased these cowards out of the city. But not before children celebrating the Fourth saw them. Not before they made their statement, showed their numbers, and proclaimed their pretend patriotism.

On January 6th those fragile egos called themselves Patriots. They used flags to beat and bludgeon police officers. Throughout the pandemic, those claiming to love Liberty have marched through city streets with long guns. Today, the "Free" PA movement continues to grow its white supremacist base, claiming to adore freedom so much they’re trying erase Trans kids, strip our schools of books like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and block our ability to teach history fully and truthfully.

I know, I know, they are ridiculous and have nothing to do with your values - even if you had their "Open PA" sign in your yard, because that was just to protest Wolf’s pandemic response, right? Wrong. That was just their opening; white supremacy is their end goal. These folks are now in the pockets of your local Republican officials; we’re already seeing state reps pivot on policy to appease them. Congressman Lloyd Smucker is having meetings with them where non-disclosures are signed at the door and "discreet" donations are requested (discreet because there will be no tax deductions, because nothing these people do is ethical or safe). As crazy and off-the-wall as they seem to you, they’re organized. They’re fundraising. They’re in our local churches (because, you know, racism is what brown Jesus would do). Republican friends, if you’re not writing your reps to say these people don’t represent your party, you’re handing your party to them. You are them.

Let’s take back our words so that these folks never take back our cities and towns.

Patriotism, for me and maybe for you, is love; not love of our brutality or our colonialism or our mistakes, but love of us - of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman and Langston Hughes and James Baldwin and Fannie Lou Hamer…of indigenous leaders and immigrants and refugees, of every protestor who marched to move our country forward, of my pappy, and of you.

Freedom and Liberty - they’re for ALL of us. It always strikes me, that the white anabaptists and evangelicals who came here to escape religious persecution are, too often, now practicing persecution. The power they fled has become their own poison.

I dunno. I just think that sometimes paradigm shifts can save the world. Narratives can heal, or destroy, us. I wanna write the story where we create an America that lives up to its ideals, where we celebrate ALL of our stories, where we tell the truth and face the past and build an equitable future.

Where we choose love.

Where these guys, these “Patriots,” are suffocated by our celebrations of acceptance and love and progress.

It’s time to take back our words.

It’s time to create a new us.

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