Celebration and Patriotism on the Fourth of July

For most of us, this 4th of July is going to look a little different. Many fairs, parades and fireworks have been cancelled. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in many parts of the country, and as a nation, we are facing critical issues that are dividing us. For so many Americans who turn on the news each night, it might be difficult to think of celebrating.

That said, I still believe we have cause to commemorate this holiday. On the anniversary of our independence, let’s look to the future with hope rather than cynicism and remember what it is that America stands for.

This Saturday marks 244 years since the 13 colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. While we all know the story, it’s still remarkable to remember that our young nation took on the greatest military power in the world and won. Our founders risked everything to create a new way of governing that would encapsulate democratic ideals of liberty and equality.

Since then, as a nation, we have taken on impossible odds and come out on top. We may seem to be divided now, but we survived a civil war and thrived into a new century. We defied all expectations when we landed on the moon with less technology than you now have on your smart phone. Our young country has been a great defender of freedom, a welcome place for innovation and progress, and at its best, an example of democracy to the rest of the world.

However, when reflecting on our history, we cannot forget the times we have failed, the times where our country has perpetuated injustice that still reverberates today. Even from the beginning, the founders took radical enlightenment ideas of progress, tolerance, freedom and so much more to create the risky experiment of our constitutional democracy that stands today. And yet, they created a democracy exclusively for land-owning white men. They spoke of freedom in one breath, and they condoned slavery and Native American removal in another.

I say this not to invalidate their legacy, far from it. It's so important that we recognize and learn from our abject failure because that is the story of American—constant progress. It's because of this progress that we are much closer today to the ideals of freedom and equality than we were more than two centuries ago. It is the easy thing to write off America as a lost cause when we see all the ills in our society and government. It is the patriotic thing to see these as opportunities to come together and work hard for a better future and a more just nation.

In 2015, former President Barack Obama gave the following address that holds true even more at this moment:

“It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress, who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s America.”

Right now, we are living through such a disruption, and it’s up to us to honor the promise of America and create a better tomorrow. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our Independence Day.