WHY DO WE CELEBRATE INDEPENDENCE DAY?

Today is July 4, 2020. In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic we are being advised to forgo our usual celebrations, to avoid mass gatherings, going to the beach and large public fireworks displays. Sheltering in place is the order of the day which may include virtual cocktails and barbecues with families and friends. There will be no Fourth of July parades, and the usual flag-waving will be mostly limited to displays of the flag hung from our homes. Of course, if you are a pandemic denier and or a supporter of the current administration, you will most likely be disregarding all the warnings about wearing facial coverings, social distancing and avoiding large groups.

But exactly what is all the celebrating?

Native Americans aren’t celebrating (largely). Predating the American revolution by more than 250 years, white Europeans began to explore and colonize what we now know as the United States of America (as well as Canada, Central and South America). A regimen of dishonesty, subjugation, displacement and genocide was begun at that time and continues through this day. Native peoples are still barely an asterisk in our discussion of equality and human rights in this country.

Many (mostly white) people would say that it celebrates our independence from British rule in the 18th century. Others would say that it represents the rights of all men to be free from oppression. Still others would point to the rights of life, liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness. Many Americans would check the box labeled “none of the above.”

Most of us look to the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence wherein the founding fathers wrote,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

No one in their right minds, however, could ever believe that the founding fathers, by writing the words, “all men,” actually intended their words to apply to everyone. The founding fathers were the one percenters of their time. They were wealthy, land owning, slave owning white men. Yes, they were upset with the British because the king was interfering with their business relations and their profit margins both at home and abroad. Breaking free from the monarchy would protect their bottom lines.

They clearly did not trust the electorate to protect their business interests either. They therefore included in the Constitution a provision for the electoral college which allowed more wealthy, landowning white men who would be appointed by other wealthy landowning white men to cast the final ballots for president of the United States. It was also a way to keep the southern states in the union by including the 3/5 rule which gave the less populace southern states additional representation by counting 3/5 of the slaves for electoral purposes.

Furthermore, voting would be limited to land owning white men. Hopefully, you are following the trend here.

We didn’t “abolish” slavery until 1865, when the 13th Amendment was ratified, and people of color (slaves) were not given the vote until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870. Of course women, who were even farther down the pecking order, were not given the vote until 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and the Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified.

Even though blacks, and arguably other people of color, were given the vote in 1870, great lengths were taken to prevent that from happening and it wasn’t until 1961, with the ratification of the 24th Amendment which prohibited revocation of voting rights for failure to pay a poll or other tax that the voting franchise was fully extended. Even then, it took President Lyndon Johnson, signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, to finally start putting things in order, and almost 50 years of attempts by various groups to undo it.

On July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglas gave one of his most famous speeches, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” to the Rochester, NY Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society.

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

In the words of the signers of the Declaration of Independence,

 When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Our causes are many. It is now time to dissolve this administration.

Today we see attempts by the Republican Party to prevent states from enacting legislation that would allow widespread vote by mail which would throw open the doors to the polls allowing vastly more people the opportunity to vote–arguably as our founding fathers would have wanted.

Instead, using the pandemic as an excuse, Republican led state legislatures have limited vote by mail, and closed the majority of the polling places, thereby engaging in widespread voter suppression.

Over the last 3 1/2 years we have suffered under administration which has chipped away at economic freedoms, laid waste to environmental protections, protected the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle-class, taking away health care for millions of Americans while failing to protect them from the treachery of of pandemic. The administration is continued to chip away human rights including a woman’s right to choose and removing protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people.

In the wake of increasing racial tensions occasioned by the unlawful murders of black people in police custody, the administration continues to drive a racial wedge between the people of this country. And while the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow and people’s attitudes continued to change, the administration continues to side with police and call the demonstrators thugs and anarchists. When people of this enlightened age began to tear down monuments aggrandizing Confederate “heroes” and demanded the renaming of military bases named for Confederate generals, the president threatened to imprison these demonstrators and to protect these abhorrent monuments “at all costs.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to ravage our shores, the administration turned its face away claiming it was no worse than the flu and that it would simply disappear. This weekend as infection rates are spiking after the premature opening of businesses and public spaces (at the presidents encouragement) we in the United States are on track to reach 200,000 deaths from the virus by October 1. Still the president and members of his administration refuse to wear facial coverings. At his political rallies, facial coverings are not required and neither is social distancing. Countless people tested positive for the virus, including members of his own administration, after his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But he continues, undeterred.

The administration continues to downplay the effects and reach of the virus. There is no coordinated federal response or plan for treatment, testing, or tracing.

We learned this week that the president was informed months ago that the Kremlin offered to pay a bounty to the Taliban and for every US and UK’s soldier it killed. Notwithstanding that many administration officials confirmed that the president was advised of this, the president continues to deny he was informed and to this day has taken no action against the Russians.

From the Declaration of Independence, which is as relevant today as when it was first written,

. . . Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

This week I asked my Facebook friends whether they would fly the flag this Fourth of July holiday weekend. Only 39% said they would definitely fly the flag; 23% said they would definitely not fly the flag and 38% responded that they would either fly an alternate flag or fly the US flag upside down or at half-mast.

This is not surprising. On July 2, syndicated columnist David Brooks wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times, “At least Americans are not in denial about the nation’s turmoil of the last three months. According to a Pew survey, 71 percent of Americans are angry about the state of the country right now and 66 percent are fearful. Only 17 percent are proud.”

So exactly what are we celebrating this weekend?

If I had to put that into words, and that is the point of this blog, I would have to say that we are not celebrating a particular thing but a set of ideals. The ideal that all people are created equal, possessing certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That should be our over arching purpose in life, that mankind, all mankind is equal in the eyes of the law and that no person or peoples should be caused to suffer because of who they are, what they look like, or who they love. We must never lose sight of that and those who think that they are better must learn how to come into the fold, must learn that there are no “others.” It is just “we.”

The framers noted their noble intentions in the preamble to the United States Constitution and it should be the Northstar for everything we do.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

To form a more perfect union, to establish justice, to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity. There can be no higher calling. We must not allow ourselves to be strict constructionists when it comes to reading the Constitution. We must look beyond the small-mindedness and narrow focus of its framers, and read the Constitution in its broadest possible terms so that it encompasses all people and its benefits are extended to everyone.

So my celebration today will not be a celebration of the country as it is but of the country as it should be. I will celebrate the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution for what they can be, for what they should be. And I will vote in November to facilitate that goal.

In case you were wondering . . .

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