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What Does Patriotism Mean To You?


It's Memorial Day weekend, time to reflect on the men and women who died serving in our military. For Ricardo Garcia of Lansing, Mich., that defines his idea of patriotism.

RICARDO GARCIA: We had a lot of people that fought for our freedom - that I recognize that the freedom we have now today is established because of the many lives that have died for us to have it.

SIMON: We went to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and asked visitors about what patriotism means to them.

KARI JAMBOR: Hi. I'm Kari Jambor, and I'm visiting from Seattle, Wash. I think about the sacrifices my family has given for our country. Being married to a pilot and, you know, having children at home when dad is overseas protecting us and defending us.

DONG VUE: My name is Dong Vue. I'm from Detroit, Mich. To me patriotism means, you know, just devoting yourself to your country, you know, protecting your rights as a citizens. My brother is actually in the Navy. So, you know, I'm very proud of him and everything.

SABRA ROSNER: My name is Sabra Rosner. I'm from Iowa. Top of mind is freedom. Freedom is absolutely No. 1 to me. Free speech is very important to me. You know, you might have to fight for them because, otherwise, they'll disintegrate.

SIMON: Voices from the National Mall.

Service, sacrifice, freedom. Reverend William Barber II, a longtime civil rights leader from North Carolina, understands those themes. His father was drafted during World War II into a U.S. Navy that was segregated. But still, he says...

WILLIAM J. BARBER II: My father understood the threat that Hitler was to the whole world. He was willing to love this country, but it is not a love that is a blind love. It is not a love that says my country and nowhere else. It is not a love that says God bless America. It is a qualified love that loves the country enough to literally tell the truth to that country and to constantly want it to be better than it has been.

SIMON: Reverend William Barber is also co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, a revival of Martin Luther King's original campaign more than 50 years ago that focused on poverty and economic justice.

BARBER: What I do know, that I'm clear on is that the need for those who will organize, who will stand and speak truth to power in this country is a tremendously important patriotic act. And it is needed now and in some ways more than it was needed then because there are attempts to literally remove or undo what has been done. And so patriotism requires us to not only fight to hold on to the things of the past but to fight to push to the victories that we have not yet won.

SIMON: The Reverend William Barber II. And throughout today's program, we'll hear more voices about the meaning of patriotism. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.