Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July
Independence Day is here, the second under the regime of Donald Trump.
I do not blame anyone for not celebrating it. I do not blame anyone for feeling as if the promise of this country—always unfulfilled, but full of hope—has finally offered up its poisoned fruit.
I do not blame anyone for not wanting to fire off fireworks, or have a cookout, or sit in a park and listen to John Phillip Sousa. These rituals of patriotism feel empty now.
Why? Because “patriotism” has been hijacked. Now, the worst of us lay claim to it, using it as a rabid dog’s call to appeal to their own. The xenophobic, the homophobic, the misogynist. The racist.
We’re building a new light rail line in my neck of the woods. And it soars over the 405 at one point. And workers decided to plant the flag over that portion of the line. And I can tell you that I looked at it with revulsion. One, expansively, could assume that it was a declaration of our nationhood against this regime. But forgive me if I though the opposite, that this was a reminder to blue-voting Californians every day that an exponent of flag and blood was in the White House, and that they weren’t going anywhere.
It’s hard to feel any amity, any fellow-feeling, with people who see you as subhuman, who want nothing more than to eradicate you from what they consider “their” space. If you don’t ascribe to their beliefs, you are anathema, to be done away with, one way or another.
This is a civil war. Not a shooting one—yet—but a conflict never the less. There is no bridging a gap with a Harley worker who is about to see his job moved to Europe because of foolish tariffs, but still supports this regime. They are not operating from a logical frame of reference, but from one of blood and soil.
Blood and soil. Those are terms which were supposed to have been banished from these shores, the derelict trappings of an old world. This was a new country, a free nation, unshackled by old entanglements. That was, of course, always a pipe dream. A nation which despoiled a native population would, perforce, develop a notion of blood and soil. And, eventually, some would ascribe to themselves the guardianship of that blood and soil, to the exclusion of others. Blood and soil were inbuilt to this Republic.
But, yes, another trope was inbuilt into us. That it didn’t matter from whence you came, or what you believed. If you bought into the idea of liberty, of a free nation of free people, you belonged. The Hindu and the Japanese were as worthy of citizenship as the Serb or the Italian. It is an idea which struggled against itself, against its own contradictions. For most of this nation’s history, it was an idea honored more in the breach than the observance. In the midst of the Civil War, white, Irish New Yorkers rioted against conscription to free black slaves. America is a land of shattered hopes.
But those hopes are real, and they sustain us. And, slowly, surely, we have been fulfilling them. This country as it exists now would be an alien land to someone from 1920. That is progress. It’s undeniable, if imperfect.
And this is the country I call mine. Not the one which rips families apart at the border, but the one which raises out a cry against ripping apart families. Not the country which bans Muslims, but which welcomes them as neighbors. Not the country whose police murder people of color with impunity, but the one which screams with one voice that this will not stand.
It’s difficult to maintain hope in these times. But, as the poet said, we have to find love in a hopeless place.
We cannot give in to that place in our minds which wants to just give up, to curl up into a ball, to surrender to fate. Fate is not given. Fate is what we make of it. It is hard work, the hardest work there is. But to surrender to what someone else has planned for you is even harder, and it will scar you, and you will have no say in it.
On this Independence Day, I recommit myself to free myself from the shackles others want to put upon me. I am stronger than they are. I have the love of the Universe behind me, while all they have is hate and animus. We are not fated to be one thing or the other. Fate is a mirage, something we tell ourselves when things seem hopeless. There is no fate save in our own actions. We are the descendants of those who have fought for freedom when the odds seemed insurmountable. Because of them, we are here. How can we betray their work by not struggling as they did?
I do not blame you for exhaustion. I feel it too. But I feel the ghosts of those past pushing me on even more strongly. Take their example. Live it. And in doing so, we will have a new breath of freedom.
If you're wondering where I got the title of this piece, it's from the wonderful song by the Los Angeles punk band X. "Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below."
Happy 4th, everyone. It belongs to us, not to them.
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