Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.
– Thomas Paine
The Fourth of July is America’s Birthday. This day is usually marked by huge celebrations, symbolising the epitome of patriotism. Parades, sports activities, fireworks, and hot dog eating competitions (I’m serious) are among the highlights rooted in the traditions and history of the country.
Due to COVID-19 and the recent protests sweeping the nation, this year’s celebrations will undoubtedly be different. However, if the past few weeks are any indication, we can expect that Americans are eager to celebrate their lives, liberties and happiness – more so now being that they’ve been housebound for months.
Why July 4th?
If the Declaration of Independence is the heartbeat of America, then the Bill of Rights is the body by which her ideals are expressed.
On July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence two days after a vote to separate from the British Monarch’s rule.
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence was at once visionary and aspirational. It’s revered for its aspirational key clause:
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.
Although revolutionary in nature in that it’s neither ‘so rigid as to be stifling, nor so malleable as to be devoid of meaning,’ this declaration preamble reveals the hypocritical nature of the founding fathers being that some owned slaves.
The Declaration is regarded as one of the most powerful visionary documents of freedom ever expressed and among the most referenced documents in the history of the world. The constitutional framework guarantees civil liberties and freedom to individuals: the freedom of speech, press, and religion.
This underscores the due process of law, upholding the idea that power is by the people and for the people, and that the people, not the federal government or the states, hold the power.
Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness today
The paradox of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness – equality and justice in the US – is as old as the nation herself. The incongruence of the founding fathers’ value system is a telltale sign of why the hypocrisy continues to this day.
On May 25th, 2020, the world witnessed a street murder of a black man, one Mr. George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer who should have been protecting him, honoring his rights and upholding the spirit of what July 4th represents.
Since then, we have seen public outrage spew across the globe as massive numbers of protesters join in to condemn this senseless act of murder, all the more despicable because it was perpetrated by those who were entrusted to serve and protect.
To many, especially minorities( blacks and people of color), Mr. Floyd’s murder reminds them of the long-endured police brutality, injustice, inequalities and institutional racism they face every day – and evidently exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports show that more blacks and people of color have been gravely impacted compared to their white counterparts.
This July 4th, some will be confronting many realities as they juxtapose their life, liberties and pursuit of happiness with the state of affairs in the land. Sadly, those gravely impacted might end up concluding that America has been watering ‘the tree of liberty’ with their blood and particularly with that of the African American men.
So, rather than pretend that July 4 represents freedom for all Americans, perhaps we ought to ponder Fredrick Douglas’s words, “What to a slave is July 4th?“
Lastly, acknowledge that there is still more work to be done and that the protesters are not only exercising their constitutional right, but are addressing the US face up to hypocrisy and the mistrust with authorities and the widespread police brutality.
All is not lost: America is still ‘the city on a hill’
A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nations, like humans, go through transformations. America is no exception. Since her founding, the nation has gone through a number of revolutions. Such revolutions have birthed freedom from slavery, the rights to votes for African Americans and women, and still more to come.
Historically, the US has been progressive. Progress demands growth, and growth by nature requires discomfort – induced by either foreseeable or unforeseeable factors. America has always led the world into such advancement – industrial, technological, political and social for the greater good.
Seen as a beacon of hope, America continues to inspire freedom, justice and equality for many. From the civil rights, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matters movements, many across the globe look to her constitutional framework in their quest to live by the same ideals the American founding fathers hoped to live by.
While some have regarded these men as enlightened and brilliant, (and granted, they were given their time) it’s worth noting that they were fallible men like all of us are. Nevertheless, their vision for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness echoes the conflict of man’s innate desires to be free and to rule.
How are we to overcome this other than choosing to be pliable and cultivate character strength based on virtues: humility, resilience, honor and respect for individuals trickling up to a nation.
America’s constitutional framework remains a beacon of hope for the world, guaranteeing transformation for the nation and her people. Historically, America has progressed to cement her reputation as the ‘city upon a hill’ and she continues to transform herself as a model for freedom.
This Fourth of July, America may be confronting a few of her own challenges but one thing is certain: hope, strength and opportunities have always guided her to be a shining star. Marked with resilience and good faith as the nation seeks to actualise and guarantee life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all.
Given the current pandemic, how do you plan to celebrate this July 4th?