Let’s Observe the Fourth of July This Year With a Bit of Celebration, Mourning, and Solidarity

A colors team from the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard present the colors at the start of A Star Spangled Spectacular at the Air Force Memorial July 4, 2017, Washington, D.C. Under the direction of their commander Col. Larry Lang various groups from The United States Air Force Band came together to perform for the crowd gathered at the memorial to view the D.C. fireworks. An Honor Flight from Austin, Texas made up of 25 veterans from WWII and the Korean War were the guest of honors for the performance. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Varhegyi)

It’s the Fourth of July, and you’re probably feeling a bit icky about celebrating the holiday after reading reports of the White House’s plan to celebrate the holiday with a dictatorial show of military might. Trump explained in a tweet earlier this week that our taxpayer dollars would be going toward a cavalcade of tanks and fighter jets in order to remind us and the rest of the world that America is a strong, beefy muscle man who will crush you if you aren’t on America’s side. Well, at least that’s what it sounds like he’s saying: “Big 4th of July in D.C. ‘Salute to America.’ The Pentagon & our great Military Leaders are thrilled to be doing this & showing to the American people, among other things, the strongest and most advanced Military anywhere in the World. Incredible Flyovers & biggest ever Fireworks!”

The holiday marks the day that the country overthrew the British monarchy, and this moment has been commemorated through the centuries with all sorts of gatherings, including ones that acknowledge the historical implications of the day. Today though, many of us have associated the holiday with fireworks, family, friends, food and libations, and cheesy articles of clothing that feature American flag motifs; there’s nothing wrong or un-American about spending the day this way, united with the people we love, with people in our communities. But it’s a stretch to characterize the White House’s jingoistic parade as a celebration of the United States’s origins and spirit of independence or simply as a celebration of unity and summer; instead, the Fourth of July is a blatant excuse for the administration to organize a demonstration of military power. It’s nationalism, not patriotism.

Recent events also bring up the question of whether the Fourth of July ought to be observed as a celebration. We can see a modern-day parallel in the Pride celebrations that took place this past weekend. A vocal contingent of the LGBTQ community decided to forgo the WorldPride celebration by organizing their own, inclusive Queer Liberation March as a way to eschew the corporate, commercialized presence at the WorldPride Parade, to ensure that the celebration did not overshadow the progress that is still yet to be made. “I love Pride,” Tom Viola, the director of Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, told a local news station. “But I think that right now there is more than a celebration that needs to be had for the Pride parade. We need to acknowledge not only our victories; we need to mourn our losses, and we need to take a strong stand against those who would diminish or demean us.”

It’s not a new question by any means. David Waldstreicher, a professor of history at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, wrote a piece for The Atlantic that cited Frederick Douglass’s dilemma: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn,” Douglass concluded, opting to observe the holiday on the Fifth of July at a separate celebration. Waldstreicher ponders over his own question of “which vision of American citizenship [the holiday is] being used to advance.”

Melissa Blake wrote a piece for The Independent that echoed this spirit of thoughtful observation, of taking stock of what America is and isn’t. “It’s a time to celebrate and be thankful, for sure, but also a time to reflect,” she wrote. “Because now more than ever, we’re reminded that not everyone is free. We see the headlines and images every day.” She cited the reports of unconscionable conditions at migrant detention center. “So this year, to ‘celebrate’ the Fourth of July, I’ll be donating to organizations that are fighting to end family separation. It’s something I can do. It’s my way of saying to families at the border, ‘Yes, I see you and I’m with you.’” We could all definitely take her cue and do the same.

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