It’s the 4th of July, 2020. In years past we unquestionably celebrated this day as the birth of our nation, when we took our freedom from an unjust and very unreasonable king. We affectionately call it Independence Day. But in this transformative year, with the novel coronavirus ravaging most of the nation and the demand for social justice and true systemic reforms in policing and law enforcement generally sweeping over cities big and small — and one mountain of a national monument in South Dakota — the 4th of July feels a little different for many people.
At the Los Angeles Post-Examiner we have celebrated Independence Day in the traditional sense, but this year we have to look at it differently. In his speech of July 5, 1852, the heroic statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too, great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory …”
Douglass added, “I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…”
Here we are, 168 years after that speech, and there are people of color — and many white people — in the streets for weeks on end, demanding those same freedoms we have so proudly celebrated every year on the 4th of July: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
As we have seen since the novel coronavirus began cutting down Americans four months ago — maybe five months ago — and the rise of the many who now march for social justice, 53 years after Dr. King wrote that letter, there still isn’t equality in American society, be it the legal system, law enforcement, economic, health, education and personal security.
Let’s celebrate this 4th of July, 244 years after that Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, but let’s also endeavor to broaden the umbrella of equality to all people within our borders. And maybe, just maybe, our government begins to honor all those treaties broken in our ancestors’ names. We all have, after all, benefitted from the breaking of those treaties and the displacement and genocide of those that came to this continent before the first Europeans.
Those are the original sins of America: slavery, with all the bigotry that has endured since slavery was abolished, and the genocide of the indigenous people of this nation and the theft of their lands and resources.
Stay safe, stay at home and if you go out, please observe the protocols of social distancing and wearing a face covering.
Happy 4th of July.
Top photo is a YouTube screenshot of protestors at Mount Rushmore
before President Trump gave a speech at the national park.
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