Independence Day 2022
Photo illustration by John Partipilo.
July 4 marks the most sacrosanct of American holidays, Independence Day, the day on which the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence from England and created America.
The day has always been one of patriotic displays with red, white and blue bunting, parades, fireworks and political speeches about how we live in the greatest nation on earth.
America is a good country. We offer freedoms not found in many other countries, including the First Amendment protection on speech, no matter how offensive or heinous the speech. We’ve always been a melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures, although that’s been —and continues to be—hard won.
There’s always been a ‘love it or leave it’ crowd that seems to think criticizing America is unpatriotic, but who, if not Americans, should speak out against what is unjust in our own country?
Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a renowned abolitionist, orator and statesman, addressed the incongruencies of America’s Independence Day in an 1852 speech titled “What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?”
A snippet of Douglass’s speech reads: ”What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham.”
“You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three million of your countrymen.”
America has clearly evolved since Douglass made that speech 172 years ago — slavery was abolished in 1863 — but many Americans are looking at Independence Day differently this year.
Patriotism has been subsumed by the nationalism of the Donald Trump “Make America Great” era. Republican politicians scramble to out-MAGA each other, to compete for Trump’s endorsement, to deny an attempt to overthrow our government and to whip up hysteria over immigrants from Mexico and Central America who want to come to the United States.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that reversed Roe v. Wade and. for all practical purposes, makes abortion illegal in many states — including Tennessee — many women are questioning how independent women are.
Given that Tennessee lawmakers are already discussing legislation to prevent women from crossing state lines to seek an abortion and that an Ohio lawmaker has called pregnancies of rape and incest, even in children as young as 13, an “opportunity,” the question is valid.
Meanwhile, Tennessee has a higher than average infant mortality rate, and yet lawmakers have proposed no policy changes of late to improve that statistic.
And speaking of crimes, a new “truth in sentencing” law recently took effect, which will keep those convicted in prison longer, with, opponents allege, no significant reduction in crime and steep operational and financial costs.
Once you’ve served your time and want to become a member of free society again, Tennessee makes restoration of voting rights difficult, even when charges have been expunged in other states.
While Tennessee Republican leaders brag about what a low-tax and fiscally well-managed state in which we live, 300,000 Tennesseans also lack access to health care, as the legislature has refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion, leaving billions of dollars available to the state untouched, to boot.
The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to carry guns and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a New York case that one need have no justification for carrying a gun in public — but what has happened to the freedom to attend church, go to the grocery store, send your children to school or even enjoy a July 4 parade without the fear of being gunned down?
For those of us who follow American and Tennessee politics, who think critically about the laws our state legislature passes and the rulings the U.S. Supreme Court makes, this July 4 Independence makes us think we are less free than “freeish.”
In a time in which many of us look for some bit of positive news, Tennesseans will at least vote in November on whether to ban all forms of slavery. The wording of the Tennessee Constitution is phrased so that “slavery and involuntary servitude” can be used as punishment for crimes.
And on the same day the Roe decision was handed down, the U.S. Senate voted, with bipartisan support, on the most comprehensive federal gun safety package in 30 years.
These are small steps. But at a time when many Americans are questioning the notion of independence, even baby steps towards improvement can inspire an iota of hope.
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