Not on our watch

We exchange photos on Friday afternoons; it has become a tradition-somewhat of a friendly competition. This week, in honor of Independence Day, he sent a patriotic photo of his balcony- multiple American flags in a beautiful sculpture, and a fern. Porch-rater would have given him a 10/10. He had not anticipated my response- an upside-down flag- a sign of distress often used by ships at sea. And rather than red, white, and blue attire to celebrate the holiday, I was dressed in black- more appropriate for a shiva than a holiday barbecue.

Two hundred and forty-four years ago our founding fathers brought twenty-seven grievances against King George III and his governmental enforcers. Charges included abdication of the government and destroying the lives of the colonists. The mad monarch was accused of acts of executive overreach, bad deeds, abuses of power, and a lack of caring for the common good, health, or security. His statue in Manhattan was toppled in 1776 by angry New Yorkers who believed he did not represent their values or culture.

When America declared its independence from Great Britain a new nation was born. But “All men are created equal, and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness” were just words on parchment. Prosperity, unity, or freedom did not exist-for some. An exclusive club of white men hid behind the document. For slaves, it was another day of suffering, oppression, injustice, inhumanity, — just reread the words of Frederick Douglass.

It took the Emancipation Proclamation and the Fourteenth Amendment to provide freedom for slaves and clauses of citizenship, privileges of immunities, and equal protection. Change has been painfully slow; it has taken hundreds of years for mass demonstrations to bring the hope of change.

We no longer have to worry about lodging soldiers in our homes or using special papers for legal documents but we continue to face trade wars and tariffs on imported goods, tax breaks for the wealthy, stacking the decks with conservative judges, and children and families in settlements at the border. Americans are finally beginning to recognize that all men and women are equal under the law.

Public readings, bells, bonfires, and fireworks marked the first July 4th holiday in Philadelphia’s Independence Square in 1777. Celebrations were laden with toasts, 13-gun salutes, political speeches, prayers, music, and troop reviews. Ships in port were decked with red, white, and blue bunting. Over time, July 4th became a day of flags, parades, barbecues, picnics, baseball games, family reunions, and fireworks.

But today, a blanket of anguish and despair hangs over America. Over one hundred twenty-five thousand Americans have died, so far, of COVID-19. We are banished from entering foreign countries. Tens of thousands of people are demonstrating in the streets trying to right the injustices of discrimination, division, systemic racism, and hate. The administration’s wishes for isolation and America First are coming true.

Choosing to hold a gathering at the foot of Mount Rushmore is just another one of the President’s pranks, hoaxes, tricks, or injustices. Putting thousands of people at risk, the maskless wonder held another rally- this time on the sacred, stolen land of the Indigenous people of South Dakota. Thousands of people gathered without following science guidelines, distancing, or masks. His address of fear and division was yet another slap in the face to the Sioux Nation and America.

Rather than seizing the opportunity to unite America, his inflammatory remarks harkened back to his innaugural address, fueling division between the left and the right and blue and red. He warned against culture canceling while confusing thoughtful monument removal as attempts to erase history. The man believes that splitting a nation leads ti winning an election.

Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our country, heed the clarion call, and save a broken America. With a national election just four months away we have a lot to do. First, we must remove the barriers of voter suppression. Republicans are worried about major losses so they are pulling out all the stops. What can we do? Fight for early and mail in voting, prevent purging voters from the rolls, open more polling places, and make them accessible to all. Eliminate the requirement of Notary Public signatures or driver’s license identification. With so much at stake, why not make election day a National holiday?

We have been snatched up by a tyrannical administration and lured down a path of hate and division; no one is safe. Rights and privileges we thought were secure, like healthcare for all or a woman’s right to choose, hang in the balance. The lives of our military personnel are for sale, and Indigenous nations, people of color, immigrants, and noncitizens are devalued. If we do not act now, it will be very difficult to pick up the pieces in November.

This year July 4th is a day of physically distancing, BYO beer, utensils, food, and paper goods. People will not be sitting on blankets under the stars watching fireworks and singing patriotic songs. We might look forward to a day when we can all celebrate our country’s independence, arm in arm, without masks, and singing the same anthem.

It is not a day of rest- it is a day to put our feet to the pedals of change. So, roll up your sleeves- we have a lot to do. As Alexander Hamilton said in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. You get nothing if you…Wait for it, wait for it, wait!

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Ruth Levine-Arnold

Cognitive Communication Specialist, Former Columnist Berkshire Record