Celebrating the Fourth of July with Howard Zinn and Frederick Douglass

I marched in the Ypsi 4th of July parade this morning. If I didn’t wave back to you, I’m sorry. I had my hands full making sure that Arlo didn’t get too close to the SUV in front of us, which I believe contained someone seeking elected office. Here we are, fulfilling our patriot obligation. Next year, assuming we’re invited back, we’ll be dressed in matching, super patriotic ensembles.


[Photo courtesy Mike “the G is for g-string” G.]

As I went directly from the parade to a New Belgium Brewing event at Cultivate, I’m not able form coherent thoughts at the moment… Here, however, is something I posted a few years ago about the Fourth of July. I think it still rings true today…

In spite of the warrantless phone tapping, the daily drone strikes, and the fact that wealth is rapidly concentrating in the hands of just a few, I actually love America. For all of its flaws, I think we’ve created something truly unique and beautiful here… something worth fighting for. It’s an extremely fragile thing, this nation of ours, and I don’t know how long we’ll be able to manage it, but it’s awesome that, for generations, we’ve been a beacon for fairness and equality, and I truly appreciate that. And I’m happy to have been given an opportunity to raise my family here. We may not always live up to the promise, but, for the most part, we do the right thing when it matters, and we continue to move forward. With that said, though, I’m not terribly keen on blind patriotism, and the belief that we were somehow singled out by God for greatness.

What we’ve been able to achieve isn’t thanks to God having chosen us. It’s thanks to the men who risked their lives to sign the Declaration of Independence. It’s thanks to the suffragettes who went on hunger strikes to secure the vote for women. It’s thanks to the young black men and women who sat down at segregated lunch counters and refused to leave. And it’s thanks to the millions who gave up everything they had in other countries in order to come here and be a part of this great American experiment.

I’m reminded of a comment made several years ago by historian Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States. “On this July 4,” he said, “we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.”

The belief that your country is somehow inherently better than every other country on the globe because God somehow favors us is dangerous, and it’s a disservice to all those great Americans who gave their lives to ensure that we remain a representative democracy dedicated to equality and the protection of individual rights. A true patriot, in my opinion, is someone who is constantly questioning his or here country, and demanding that we stay true to the belief that all people are created equal, not just those of us who wave flags and wear t-shirts declaring our patriotism.

And, it’s with that in mind, that I pass along the following quote from abolitionist Frederick Douglass, spoken 154 years ago today, on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York.

frederickdouglas“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Those, to me, are the words of a true patriot.

And today, as we celebrate our nation’s founding, this is why I’m thinking of the men and women fighting to get the money out of politics and end corporate personhood more than I am about parades, flags and fireworks. That’s what true patriotism looks like.

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  1. Taco Farts
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink


  2. Bob
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I just fucking hate backyard fireworks and how it brings out the redneck in seemingly normal people. I feel like Peter Larson right now.

  3. Meta
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    “What to the Slave is 4th of July?”: James Earl Jones Reads Frederick Douglass’ Historic Speech


  4. Mr. X
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Ypsi parade video from Donald Harrison.


  5. Lynne
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    LOL, Bob. I don’t know what I hate worse, the fireworks or the constant bitching about fireworks on social media ;) I can’t help thinking that reinstating the ban would help both things though. I actually haven’t been in Ypsilanti on the 4th since the ban was lifted and O.M.G. it was something! I have not seen that many fireworks in town ever. My dog wasn’t happy and from what I can tell, my neighbors weren’t happy either although I have to give them credit for waiting until 1am to complain. My advice to those who love fireworks is to cut it out after a reasonable hour because momentum seems to be forming behind a movement to ban them again.

  6. Mike G!
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Oh, fer cryin’ out loud! You gotta tell everybody about the g-string!?

  7. Posted July 6, 2016 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    People deserve to know.

  8. Charmain
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Truth told

  9. Mr. Y
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Something more to contemplate this Independence Day.


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