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Independence Day celebration for whom?
by Rev. Irene Monroe
2018-07-11

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Last week we celebrated the Fourth of July with rounds of festivities marking our nation's 242 years of independence. Scenes of hyperpatriotism were on display, too.

People were singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" or reciting the pledge of allegiance or reenacting the Continental Congress of 1776 or simply watching reproductions of the "rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air." All of this and more was done on a grander and more highly commercialized scale to show ourselves, and the world, our mettle to "Make America Great Again."

As a consequence for the United States' need to showcase her nativist spirit of patriotism, it comes at the expense of fundamental freedoms and protections denied to various disenfranchised, vulnerable and historically marginalized populations in the country and immigrants.

For example, President Trump's indefensible immigration policy of criminally punishing undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the United States highlights how his "zero-tolerance" policy means zero humanity—first separating children from their families ( even a child who was being breast-fed ) to now locking up families together indefinitely in detention centers.

Another example of the litmus test of U.S. patriotism in sports these days is whether you stand for the national anthem, ignoring that the protest started as a statement against police brutality and systemic racism. However, since 9/11, the militarization of our sports culture has created a sports-military complex that has many white fans attending not only for the entertainment but to display fidelity to police and the military, too.

With Trump now having an opening to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court justice to the bench in the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade, women's reproductive-justice issues will no longer be of serious consideration, impacting predominately poor, disabled and women of color.

There is already an erosion of LGBTQ rights under the guise of religious liberty. A new Trump Supreme Court justice will likely go after Obergefell v. Hodges, returning same-sex marriage to the states.

While Trump bloviates his isolationist rhetoric to "Make America Great Again," our democracy hangs in the balance, revealing both its hypocrisy and its inhumanity. However, this is not the first time this country's Independence Day celebration didn't include all its citizens.

I am reminded, for example, of the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass' ( 1818-1895 ) historic speech, "What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?" In it, he stated to a country in the throes of slavery: "What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? ... I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. ... This Fourth of July is yours, not mine."

As a lesbian American, one of our most significant moments of patriotism in this last century involved the Stonewall Riots of June 27-29, 1969, in New York City's Greenwich Village. And, as an African-American, I am proud to live up to what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Montgomery Bus Boycott speech on Dec. 5, 1955: "The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right."

When patriotism is narrowly defined, as it is today, it can only be accepted and exhibited within the constraints of its own intolerance, and narrow worldview, like Trump's travel ban ( aka Muslim ban ), which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in a five-to-four decision.

Evangelical patriotism is suffused with conservative or fundamentalist tenets of Christianity. It waves the flag of "God, guns and glory" that's sadly shaping today's landscape. Perhaps that's why when this country's school-age children ask for gun reform at the "March for Our Lives" rally held in the nation's capital, our government is willing to spend more money arming teachers with guns than supplying them with textbooks and computers.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has changed radically. This country's acceptance of racially and religiously profiling Muslims or those who look like or who worship like Muslims is all done in the name of patriotism, but it is really fear and hatred of the "other" and is un-American.

And this ugliness has imploded on us.

We have become a country where partisan politics rule the day so that we can no longer agree to disagree, and shouting matches laced with expletives have taken the place of civil discourse.

One of our most famous American Revolution heroes is Patrick Henry. His famous final words, "Give me liberty or give me death"—in his speech on March 23, 1775—explained how he viewed himself as the "other" yet maintained the core value of being an American patriot.

He said, "No man thinks highly than I do of patriotism ... but different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs."

With so many people, on this Fourth of July, feeling the effects of a polarized country, this Independence Day celebration was for whom?


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