When it comes down to it, I'm not one for public speeches or even standing/sitting in a crowd for long periods of time. But the short walk down the hill known as the Annual Albuquerque Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday March is one of my favorite things. Yesterday, the biggest "marching" group I've seen in my years of attendance walked, strutted, danced, drummed, drove real, real, real slow, performed, walked on stilts, held up signs and generally consumed the little stretch of road known as MLK boulevard.
I rode my bicycle to the event, taking a few trips up and down the parade line to better soak it all in. The size, friendliness and energy of the crowd in transit was enough to remind me that this annual Sunday is one of two or three days a year when I'm proud to be an American.
Phrases like "Proud to be an American" have, for some years now, been an official trademark of the xenophobic, the exclusionary and the fearful. Bad country-western songs (and yes, there is such a thing as "good" country-western songs, imho) get to use "Proud to be an American". People with those "Support Our Troops" magnetic flag-as-ribbon car bumper adornment have, for years now, been allowed to say it in a way that directly implies those not adorning their cars with magnetic flag-as-ribbons aren't "Proud to be an American" and probably shouldn't even be Americans.
And, it's true, many of us who walk, ride and strut in things like an MLK march have some problems with a phrase like "Proud to be an American". For one thing, it's been quite some time since our government did something worthy of instilling any pride in us whatsoever. Also, there's the whole "pride in country" thing which almost always seems to spill over into "my country right or wrong", "my country: love it or leave it", "special ID cards for those in our country who aren't from our country" most or all of the way down the slippery slope to things like approving torture, internment camps and beyond.
Nevertheless, alongside baseball's Opening Day (don't laugh), and any day I hear a jazz record from the year 1956, I feel that rare emotion of pride in country during the MLK march. I don't stick around for the speeches really, or even much like the series of prayers and hymns to country that start the speechifying.
But the walk is real special. In my own little Private Idaho of Pride, the crowd would walk, strut and perform its way down MLK to hear a Sonny Rollins concert at Civic Plaza, or watch a baseball game, but that's just me.
And, just me, I wouldn't go to the Mall in Washington and fight those crowds to see President Obama inaugurated. It's just not my scene. But I wouldn't mind walking to the Mall, and I think I'm gonna have to add January 20, 2009 to the list of days when I feel "Proud to be an American". No magnetic flag-as-ribbon adorned car bumper necessary.