You remember the image “The Spirit of ‘76” with its fife and drummers marching below the waving flag of the newborn America. The image has become a meme, called upon to represent America over and over and over. It was originally called “Yankee Doodle” and is not considered great “Art” as is perhaps appropriate. In popular culture, that image is enacted with the fifer limping to the beats of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” “Doodle” is a seventeenth century German derivative meaning “fool” or “simpleton.” The rag-tag musicians in the painting were the Yankee Doodles, a term of insult with which the formally trained British troops taunted the unsophisticated American revolutionaries. But the Brits hadn’t caught on that these uppity American’s were beginning to shape an identity in which those very rag-tag militias and the hard work of ordinary folk were to be celebrated. “Yankee Doodle” was co-opted by colonial troops and turned into a patriotic cheer, a celebration of their humble origins.
Last night, as I watched the tired, bedraggled yet steadfast protesters at OccupyWallStreet (streaming live from its General Assembly meeting in the town square, open to all who wish to participate, peacefully organizing several thousand marchers in common cause), I thought,
“These are the new Yankee Doodles.”