Independence Day

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

This is a piece I wrote two years ago. I’ve been having the same thoughts this year, so rather than re-writing my similar sentiments, I’m posting in on my new blog for some new people to see.

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July 3, 2009: In the past few days, I’ve seen many remarks of this nature: “I’m not a fan of fireworks, so I really don’t like the 4th of July.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with such sentiments; plenty of people also do not like roller coasters, spinach, or (heaven forbid) Harry Potter, all three of which I enjoy very much. But those comments got me thinking. I was tempted to respond that I love fireworks (as indeed I do), hence Independence Day is my favorite holiday, but I had to stop and realize that that is not entirely true.

I DO love fireworks. It is paradoxical, but despite my fear of personally lighting a match, I could sit by the fire all day and watch fireworks all night. I would make an excellent pyro-groupie. And this special date also tends to come with other recognizable features shared with friends and neighbors. I love grilled steak, pineapple, corn, hotdogs, and peaches, as well as my neighborhood’s other traditional 4th of July fare such as flag cake, dirt cups, Special-K bars, and weak Crystal Light lemonade. I throw a mean water balloon. I have a batting record of .325 in our annual wiffle-ball games (ok, so I made up the average). I am also the reigning champion of the shoe-kicking contest, adult division. I could go on about the greatness that is the 45th St. Block Party, but I don’t have to. Yes, I love the 4th of July, but those are the superficial reasons.

Such a fantastic party could not take place if it weren’t in the middle of the summer, but tonight I find myself wishing that Independence Day took place a bit closer to Election Day or Inauguration Day. At those times we get so caught up in the politics of the day—the economy, national defense, bureaucratic classifications—that our thoughts turn more to finger pointing and self-aggrandizement than to the opportunity which our nation permits. I’m not talking about “opportunity” as in the Cinderella, rags-to-riches dream, but in the actual power granted to each and every one of us as citizens. The power to vote.

It is very easy to forget how much of a risk our Founding Fathers took by creating our democracy. We are living what is perhaps history’s greatest experiment. Rather than setting up a system of who’s-right and who’s-wrong, which would result in a monarchy or a dictatorship in which every decision was determined by one person with ultimate authority, these brave men formed a “more perfect union” by permitting the flexibility and uncertainty of a DEMOCRATIC republic in which ALL citizens, not just trained politicians, have a say in the matters of government. They hoped the union would be perfect, even if its methods were less than so.

And that is what we celebrate on July 4th. Not to say that we are the bravest, or strongest, or always right, but that we are capable of change, of evolution, of meeting the needs of our people and the people of the world. No, we have never met all needs; the truth is that we never will. But the process of moving forward—of reaching new heights, exploring new depths, and doing and creating things we thought to be impossible—is truly the most patriotic part of our nation.

A few days ago, two friends and I were chatting about some political issue or another and I said something to this effect: “our ideals are out of line with our reality at the moment, and not much will be changed until we recognize a new ideal and act accordingly.” We have a lot of work to do; there is no doubt about that. But we are up to the challenge. We are up to the challenge because our nation was built upon the integrity and creativity of the human race. Through the ups and downs of the economy, government corruption and instability, and even a civil war, we as an entire nation have worked fiercely to arrive at Today, and we will continue to work fiercely to arrive at Tomorrow, flawed as we and it may be.

Happy Birthday, America. I sure do love the fireworks.
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With all that running through my head again this year, I echo my wish that Independence Day took place closer to Election Day. Believe it or not, Democracy is not about the candidates who win or lose, who spend millions of dollars on TV ads, who make or break promises, wear dresses or pant suits, speak softly or carry a big stick. Democracy is still about the voters. It is about each of us claiming our right to speak our minds with our ballots. I forewent that claim when I was 18 and did not vote in the 2006 Mid-term Election. I will forever regret that decision. Who am I to live in this country and not actively participate in the decisions that determine my life? Am I somehow “above” such petty decisions as my college tuition, the future education of my children, my mother’s healthcare costs? I very firmly believe in taking advantage of my privilege to vote, and I am enraged that some still believe in revoking that privilege from deserving Americans.

Last week I joined the Rock the Vote Campaign. If you aren’t familiar with it, the goal is to increase voter turnout in the 18-30 age group of Americans– a generation of voters unsure of their place in current and future politics. They host massive voter registration drives in conjunction with concerts, and they do AMAZING work. This year, their major project is to block legislation in many states that would make it more difficult for people to register to vote. New photo ID regulations, new definitions of “residency,” and less Election Day registration availability are just a few of the things targeted at the hesitant and more transient young demographic.

It’s not ok. Every single American, age 18 and above, has the constitutional right to vote. Every. Single. American. And I feel that it is my duty as a voting American to make sure that all of the other Americans are protected in their right to vote as well. So here’s my “call to action.” Vote in the next election. Go register to vote right now, if you haven’t already. Register in your local county, rather than where your parents live or where you think you’ll be living in a few months or years. It is so easy to change your registration (whatever others would want you to believe). And if you’re passionate about voting rights– which have absolutely nothing to do with your personal political beliefs regarding parties or specific issues– then join me in the fight to protect them.

The 4th of July is still my favorite holiday, and I’d like to continue being proud of Independence Day for the rest of my life.

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