Independence Day for Whom?
Maryam Ar-Raheem and Debra Schrishuhn for the PDA national team
As Americans, we tend to like our holidays simple. Independence Day celebrates freedom; Memorial Day commemorates those who died in battle; Mother’s Day celebrates motherhood; Thanksgiving celebrates the blessings of harvest, and on and on. The reality and history of each of these commemorations is much more complicated, and reflects both good and bad aspects of our nation’s history.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass asked the provocative question, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” America’s experiment in democracy did not yet include millions of Africans kidnapped from their homelands and forced into slavery. It did not include the Native Americans who lived on these lands before Europeans arrived. It did not include the Chinese laborers who built most of the railroads that revolutionized transportation. It did not include women who would not gain the right to vote until 1919.
Today we can reflect on two starkly different declarations of freedom. The first is July 4, 1776, when a small group of elites declared independence from their mother country. The second is June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a quarter million enslaved people in Texas were freed.
The Fourth of July 1776 marked the beginning of a great experiment and the arduous search for a more perfect union. There have been giant steps forward (The Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, and Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973) as well as demoralizing stumbles and roadblocks (Voting Rights Act gutted on June 25, 2013, and Roe v. Wade overturned on June 24, 2022) along the way.
The insurrection on January 6 and recent Supreme Court decisions illustrate how fragile our democratic form of government is, and how easily long-held rights can be yanked away by yet another small group of elites. We must cherish our independence and our freedom won during the past 246 years. We must stand up with and for each other to preserve and expand our precious human rights.
PDA has been in this fight since 2004. We stand shoulder to shoulder to preserve and fulfill the promise of the American experiment.