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OP-ED | Mixed Feelings for the Fourth

by Susan Bigelow | Jul 5, 2013 8:40am
(2) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

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Susan Bigelow The Fourth of July has come and gone, and, like many people who have been observing American politics and civic life over the past decade, I was full of mixed feelings about the day, the country, and what, exactly, it is we’re celebrating.

I got up the morning of the holiday to the usual online wrangling over the holiday, the sort of introspection, excoriation and cautious celebration that’s become commonplace in my social circles. There were a few articles about great patriots, most of them military in some way, along with plenty of other articles about how America has never lived up to that initial, golden ideal of liberty and equality for everyone.

American hypocrisy, especially on the part of the government, is big news over the past couple of months. The NSA is collecting our data, the IRS seems to be targeting political enemies of the administration, drones are killing innocents all around the world, the Supreme Court struck down a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act, conservative legislatures are making massive attacks on abortion and women’s health, and there’s still gross corruption and horrible inequality here in Connecticut, just to name a few. How does any of this not run completely counter to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, which states that it is “self-evident” that “all men are created equal?”

For far too many people who live in this country, there’s always been the hard reality of exactly this sort of hypocrisy, when government and society promise freedom but often encourage and engage in exactly the sort of oppression they profess to hate. This hypocrisy goes all the way back to the beginning: the man who wrote those words about equality and liberty owned 140 slaves, and fathered children with at least one of them. The Constitution, written only 13 years later, enshrined slavery and extended the franchise only to white men. Ever since then we’ve been trying, one excruciating, revolutionary compromise at a time, to bring the reality into line with the ideal.

It’s easy to be down on this country, and to simply give up. Some people have, because that’s the only way they can deal with it. Others find ways to ignore or rationalize all the bad things that have happened. Still others find meaning in the myths, like the “leader of the free world” one, all the military stuff, American exceptionalism, and so on. When Independence Day comes around, people complain, people party, people strut, and people reflect.

As for me, I went for a ride on my bike. I rode up to the village and breathed in the humid air. I rode near the spot where a few days before, a tornado had skipped over the town like a stone on a lake, pausing to kiss the pavement on Hazard Avenue before lifting up into the storm again. I thought about the country, the storm, and the day as I rode past teenagers walking and joking. Fires burned in backyards, the smell of hot dogs and the sound of laughter was in the air.

Then I hit a bad stretch of pavement and fell, scraping my hands and knee. The bike clattered to the ground. I got up, bruised but fine, and began the work of re-attaching the chain. People slowed, leaned out of their cars, and asked if I needed any help. I didn’t, I said, and thanked them. I was surprised and touched, this suburban Connecticut town often feels so impersonal and cold.

Maybe, I thought as I woozily made my way home, maybe I overthink things. Maybe I should just try to accept the country as it is, all the good, bad, and everything in between lumped together. Maybe there’s some kind of middle ground. If we go beyond all the myths and lies and government hypocrisy, underneath are all these people and all these places, and together they make up some kind of whole. We have so, so far to go to live up to the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and I know it’ll be painful and difficult getting there, but I still have faith that someday we will.

In the meantime, the Fourth is a great day to celebrate or reflect or protest or just sit at home and fume. I think I did all of those things, and more. That night I sat up late and listened as the neighbors set off firework after firework, their staccato bursts punctuating the night, and thought here’s to another year.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(2) Comments

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | July 7, 2013  5:27pm

Naive. Uneducated. Misguided.

Sure, there are many things that could be better, but to question the 237th anniversary of our independence because your paradigm of nirvana has not yet been realized is juvenile.

People have died and been horribly wounded to realize and protect the freedom you enjoy. How dare you question that on our Independence Day!  Your ideal life will not be realized in your lifetime, but we continue to make progress. Don’t you pay attention to the legislature and the Supreme Court?

Wonder why you crashed your bike? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Most Americans question where we are going on July 4? You must not have talked to any. I was at a party on the 4th thrown by a Puerto Rican American and a Cuban American and before we sat down to dinner they read the preamble and with nearly 75 people in attendance, you could hear a pin drop.

Don’t like it? Things moving to deliberately for you?

Leave.

HST

posted by: Dave from News Talk Tonight | July 9, 2013  11:33pm

Despite our being VERY human, citizens of the United States are decent human beings, like the ones who slowed down to ask if you needed help.
  Yes, Jefferson owned slaves when he, Adams and Franklin worked in Committee to draft the Declaration. Adams was a stuffy, flinty New Englander. Jefferson was Virginia plantation owner. And Franklin was a business wiz. Together they penned a 237 year old socument that we continue to aspire to bring into reality. We forget that our Founding Fathers were imperfect human beings. Washington had a significant temper that occaisionally got the better of him (he also was a slave owner).
  One of the reasons why the Declaration and the Constitution are both enduring documents is that they looked forward.  They were statements of our then political realities, but they were also a blue-print of what we could become, if we worked hard enough for it.
  We fought a Civil War because we couldn’t get out of our own way about the issue of slavery. We have had riots since the very beginning to the 20th Century, but we at least have learned lessons from those tumults. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a response to the tumult we were facing in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. We listened to “our better angels” then, and would that we could do so now.
  So when we strip away the glow of our history, when we delve into the REAL history of our country, we should come away with a greater sense of wonder-that with all of the imperfections that existed in the founding, and as they exist now, we STILL, for the most part, got it right.
  How can I say that?  We elected our first African-American President. Marriage equality is becoming the law of the land (the march is inexorable), more women are in positions of power than ever before, and we still have the right to vote for our leaders.
  Is the system perfect? No. It is a human institution, & humans are imperfect, just like our Founding Fathers were. Still, our nation are still a beacon unto the world. Folks STILL want to uproot their lives and come here to live. We still honor the sacrifices of those who fought, spilled blood, and (in some cases) died for our liberties.
  Adams got a couple of things wrong when looking at the future. He thought that we would ave great celebrations, fire-works and jubilation on July 2. Why that date?  That was the date that the 2nd Continental Congress passed the resolution declaring our independence. Instead, we celebrate the day that that Congress adopted the Declaration, 2 days later. He also said, on his deathbed, that Jefferson lives. Jefferson died five hours before he did. When was that? July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day of the adoption of the Declaration. But Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin got it right when they looked to the future, and saw, and dreamed of, a more perfect union. It is our job to keep the torch lit, to march forward, and to help make what they all dreamed of a reality. And Susan, PLEASE don’t leave!