Embarrassing disclaimer: I used to think the 4th of July celebrated the end of the World War Two.
The only Fourth of July that I distinctly remember was almost eight years ago with my college boyfriend. We were on the Cambridge side of the Charles River in Massachusetts, watching the fireworks together despite months of talk about how our relationship was coming to an end. The wind blew, making the ashes fall over us in gentle flakes, and like a sad romantic movie we hugged before walking back to the apartment we shared. A month later I left the country for three years and that was the end of that.
The years abroad there were no big celebrations; and every year since it was always more trouble to go see the fireworks than it would have been worth it, especially since I associated the whole display with a melancholy feeling of a young woman’s broken heart. This year– i.e. today– I am at a desk, working in the CNN news room, watching Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest with the rest of my coworkers. News doesn’t take a holiday; someone’s gotta cover this shit.
Which has got me thinking about what Independence Day means for me, personally. Since that Fourth of July years ago on the Charles, my perspectives on life and freedom have changed drastically: a war started and ended but the country’s state of emergency has remained; a recession came and stayed; a historically first presidential election passed; women ran for Presidency; unrest in the U.S was looking like the Arab Spring in the West; there was such a thing as an Arab Spring…
In outlining their general philosophy of government, the Framers write that it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish the government when it becomes destructive. “It is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security,” says the Declaration.
But in the course of history, it has become so that those who think conversely to the government are viewed under a suspicious eye. At best they are labeled (un-American, ‘communists,’ and more recently– ‘dirty hippies’); at worst, they are incarcerated (sometimes without due process of law). And they are marginalized: those silly, pesky unsatisfied kids who need to get a job; those terrorist-friendly socialist liberals; those crazy right-winged gun owners.
It sounds all too familiar. Remember that the British Government during colonial times saw American opposition as the opinion of only a vocal minority.
I recently watched a three year-old clip of Jesse Ventura (yes, Jesse Ventura!) on a t.v. morning show being chastised by the host because Ventura questioned the events of September 11, 2001. Ventura replied, “Unpopular speech is why we have [the First Amendment].” Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote, in referencing philosopher Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” The First Amendment does not just protect words– it protects thoughts, ideas, religion, the right to gather and to assemble– it’s an amazing doctrine. And it’s no coincidence it’s the First Amendment. The Framers wrote it because it was under that philosophy that they severed colonization from Britain.
This year, my birthday gift to America is a promise– as best I can– to uphold the principals the country was born out of: that all citizens, equal in the eyes of God and the government, have a self evident right to expect basic protections and freedoms from the government, and that those who stand up for these rights are as patriotic–and brave–as the dissidents who got us out from under the thumb of the King. This election year, when politicians will be undoubtedly and most certainly lying to us, I will keep America forever young by remembering that it was a few men with ideas of change who brought about our independence.