This Independence Day, We Celebrate the Idea of America
Each year, millions of Americans gather on July 4th, the birth anniversary of the United States as an independent nation. For many, it’s a time of family, fireworks and food off the grill. Indeed, Independence Day is the quintessential summer holiday, a most perfect example of the spirit of a nation.
And yet, 2020 is a seemingly cursed year of existential threats, when even the mere act of being close to another human can be deadly.
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So, with the coronavirus still ravaging the country, after a brief reprieve in May, how can we celebrate the 4th of July holiday safely? And what does Independence Day mean to all who are fighting for equality and justice?
A Shining City on a Hill
To be clear, the U.S. is going through a time of tremendous challenges: The ongoing struggle for racial equality and justice, a raging pandemic that has killed 130,000 Americans, and a deep partisan divide that hasn’t been seen since the Vietnam War.
Despite this, I would argue that, on Independence Day, we celebrate the “idea” of America.
The beauty of a nation like ours is found in our desire to constantly strive to be a better version of ourselves. The founding fathers, despite their flaws, had the foresight to build into our constitutional framework the flexibility to improve our nation when necessary.
The difference between American pride and that of other nations may be small but it is crucial. We Americans are proud of our country because of what it could become.
In addition, other nations place more importance on unity through a shared cultural background. But Americans put more importance on unity through shared values among many cultures.
And it is these very values, equality, individualism, self-government and upward mobility, that we celebrate each Independence Day, even if we haven’t fully realized these values yet for every American.
But What About the Virus?
The coronavirus no doubt has caused severe disruptions to everyday life in these United States, including the fracturing of a healthy economy caused by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of this, states are making localized decisions on what businesses, schools and other activities are safe to reopen and which are not.
But one thing now seems clear in all 50 states: municipal governments are moving toward mandating smaller gatherings and virtual events where the risk of contracting the virus is reduced.
In Washington, D.C., known for its spectacular annual fireworks display, the Independence Day parade along the National Mall been canceled. Also, PBS’s annual “A Capitol Fourth” concert will not be held live on the Capitol grounds; rather PBS will broadcast a digital version, featuring such well-known personalities as actors John Stamos and Vanessa Williams.
In addition, the National Archives will host its first virtual celebration in place of its traditional ceremony of reading the Declaration of Independence outside the museum.
Depending on where you live, it’s likely that your local Independence Day fireworks show has been canceled or augmented with social distancing measures. But no matter what your local situation is, you can still celebrate the values that make America a place worthy of your emotional investment.
Even a small cookout with close friends and a few sparklers is enough to wish the Land of Liberty a happy 244th birthday.
In fact, these restrictive challenges make it all the more important that we should celebrate.
We celebrate our ability to face monumental challenges as a people and a nation and come out the other side a stronger and more just society.
In 2020, Independence Day celebrations might be smaller and more regional, but we still feel connected in our shared struggle that will define us for decades to come.
Happy Independence Day!
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