Last week many Americans paused in the middle of their week to honor the Fourth of July and commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For some it is a day of pure jubilation, others a day of scorn, and for many a welcome break in the middle of the week. Honestly, for me, it is always a mixed holiday.
For many years, the Fourth wasn’t a holiday to me at all. I worked a retail job near a beach resort. Holiday weekends and special days always just meant more work. It involved a long and busy day that was devoid of much deeper reflection. I would get home after a long day on my feet and would often be asleep before the fireworks started. This year, however, I was granted the time to stop and truly consider this holiday and all the mixed emotions around it.
The language of the Declaration is beautiful. The words and call for equality and justice inspire people from different nations, different political parties. At the heart of America is this legal argument about the necessity of overthrowing an unjust government. A bold move to build your government on. You would have to certain that no one will be throwing your own words back in your face.
A closer read reveals an inherent contradiction in the text that I always missed until I learned to listen to indigenous and native people. A few paragraphs after declaring that all men were created equal this declaration then smears native people. Each time we celebrate this paper, we lift up a document that alienates the original inhabitants of this land. Jefferson’s words betray themselves to show that “all men” meant “white men” or even “white men of British
The US continued to deny rights to men and women of all backgrounds. Its entire economy was grounded in enslavement. Abuses and prejudices that continue into today and onto tomorrow.
Looking at this history, it is hard to feel patriotic.
I see also the history of those that have fought for increasing freedoms since the founding. The abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights movement, more people than can be counted that have dedicated their lives to spreading rights and justice. People that have been inspired by the promises laid out by the spirit of that declaration. When I see that energy and activism, it is hard for me to feel anything other than patriotism.
Last Wednesday was a day of internal conflict. Torn between wanting to celebrate or to lament. In the end, I think we all did a little of both. A number of people, and I am sure many of us at the Ethical Society, found ways to volunteer and raise awareness about issues of injustice in our country. My online feed was filled with stories of service and transgressive ways to celebrate this day.
If our theme this month is Creative Alternatives, isn’t it fitting to start the month with the anniversary of creating an alternative nation? We could go further and look at creating an alternative declaration. Instead of independence at the core, we could focus on the Ethical Culture values of interdependence and interrelatedness.
What might that document look like? What might a nation look like if it held the connection to each other as the highest value? Our principles call us to look further than just ourselves. We need to see how our lives are connected to our neighbors. If harm touches one, it feels all.
I went out for the fireworks. I stood in Takoma Park with countless strangers watching the sky fill with colors and hearing people cheer. It was joyous. It made me want to work all the harder to find and create aspects of our society worth celebrating.