In speaking of Independence Day, John Adams, vice president under George Washington, said, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
The actual signing state of the Declaration of Independence is disputed, but that is unimportant except to historians. Throughout world history, entities have been declaring independence and maps change as land areas shift through constitutional settlements, gifts, bartering, rebellions or wars: Irish Republic 1919, India 1947, Israel 1948, Bosnia 1992.
I will attend the parade in Troy, on July 4th at 9 a.m.. this year and wave to my students who are participants as well as to my Veteran friends and public officials. As I stand on the sidewalk on the parade route, I will think of my many family members who have served in the military, my maternal grandmother who wrapped bandages and used ration coupons to buy shoes and food during World War II, and the 100 plus area Veterans my students and I have interviewed for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, as well as the Veterans whose stories I have written for dozens of newspapers in the Midwest and South.
I will be dressed for the occasion waving an American flag and wearing a patriotic scarf featuring American flags. Under my vest I will be wearing a black shirt that reads, “I can’t breathe” in honor of Eric Garner, 43, who was put in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014, and was pronounced dead at a local hospital about one hour later.
I’ll wear this special shirt because engraved in my very being are these words from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As a country as we celebrate, we are responsible for acknowledging that for some in our great country, there is no independence. Poverty, violence, ignorance keep them in chains.
Those who are bound by ignorance have a chokehold on those they consider different, less than themselves. They want those on our southern border clamoring to get in to just go back home without the faintest idea of what going home means to them: war, gangs, rape, poverty.
They want Americans with disabilities to just return to the shadows where they stayed before.
They also want girls and women, racial/ethnic/religious minorities, those who are not heterosexual to make them more comfortable by remaining quiet.
Before the Civil War, abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass asked on July 4, 1852 , “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”
I would ask you to add my long list of those some consider “other” to Douglass’ “slave.”
Let’s celebrate the tremendous history of our great country this year even as we resolve to continue to work to address the grievous wrongs that still exist. And let us remember as well one of Douglass’s admonitions, “No man can put a chain about the neck of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own ne