Celebrating the Fourth of July in Ypsilanti

This morning, the family and I checked out the the Fourth of July parade in downtown Ypsilanti. And, as always, I was struck by the how delightfully bonkers it all was. From the evangelical puppetry to the elderly ladies taking turns behind the Jeep-mounted M60 machine gun, like they’d just rolled off the set of Rat Patrol, it was a non-stop reminder of just how amazingly quirky this little community of ours is… But maybe the same is true of all small towns across America. Maybe everyone has parades where chanting Hare Krishnas follow cross-fit enthusiasts struggling to pull weighted sleds down the street in 95-degree heat. I’ve got to think, however, that our annual parade… the oldest Fourth of July parade in the entire state of Michigan… is just a little bit weirder.

I know it’s probably irresponsible to draw conclusions from two photos, but I can’t help but think, looking at these two images side by side, that the end might be near for the aging, stark-white Republican Party.

In their defense, though, if Alex Jones hadn’t let the world know about Democratic plans for a 4th of July massacre, I suspect the Washtenaw Republicans could have probably turned out several more members. It’s also worth noting that this was not the only conservative group in the parade. Patrick “there’s no such thing as racism” Colbeck had a float with a few sad old men sitting in the shade of a Gasden flag. And there were, of course, vocal anti-abortion activists.

None of that stuff, though, made a lasting impression. None of it got to the heart of what Ypsilanti’s Fourth of July parade is all about, which, this year, I think was best embodied by the talented young men of the band Impulse.

And, with that, I’d like to share something that I’d written several years ago, way back before the dawning of the Trump era. While I think, if I were to write about the Fourth of July today, and what it means to me, it would be quite a bit different, there’s still a lot here that I stand by today… most notably that the Republicans do not own the idea of patriotism just because they wave the biggest flags and claim to love this country of ours more.

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 her 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…

And I know I’ve said it before, and I’ve never followed through, but I’d like to have a MarkMaynard.com float in next year’s parade.

This entry was posted in History, Mark's Life, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. iRobert
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Be honest, it would be a Jean Henry float. But Jean’s very inclusive, and might even let you drive it.

  2. anonymous
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Therese Patricia Okoumou. Hero of the 4th of July Civil War.

  3. Jean
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I bet HW was one of the dudes on the Colbeck float, or at least FF.

  4. Jean Henry
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    iRobert– In fact I would rather die than participate in a parade. I would drive if I could be entirely hidden from public view– And only because I like to drive trucks/tractors, especially with trailers.

  5. Iron Lung
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Parades are stupid and useless unless they help realize the plan of the CIA and Obama to replace all white people in the US with pregnant Honduran asylum seekers and transgender BLM protesters.

  6. iRobert
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    That would make an awesome float, Iron Lung!!! I’m willing to help build that for next year’s parade. Jean’s already volunteered to drive it.

  7. Lisa Bashert
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Too bad our mosaic convertible pooped out just before Depot Town, so you missed the gold velvet-tailed mermaid perched on the back. Now that was seriously Ypsi-fied!!! You must check out my Facebook pix!

  8. Kat
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    If you do have a float next year, please hand out abortion groupons. Someone needs to counteract the anti-abortionists.

  9. Jean Henry
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    We had a 57 chevy wagon when I was a kid. Our neighbors painted it Red White and Blue while we were on vacation as a practical joke. The roof and hood were blue with white stars the rest red/white striped. The reason I tell this story is that it was not easily read politically, but everyone loved it. We drove around in that flag car through the Vietnam War/Watergate era and finally retired it after the Bicentennial. It was in the town parade every year. I would suggest that any MM parred float might walk similar line. I would really enjoy driving it and watching people respond through the darkened windshield.

  10. Lynne
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I haven’t been to the Ypsi 4th of July parade in years because I often like to spend the holiday out of town. I didn’t this year though and could have gone but forgot about it. Oh well. I am sure that the whole thing would have similarly made me happy to be part of such a quirky place. Viva Ypsilanti!

    Thanks for the report and the photos!

    Unlike many of my neighbors, I really enjoyed the fireworks last night. It was quite a show. Started at 9:45pm and went on until almost midnight. I was happy that almost everyone respected the midnight cut off. It was nearly as good as some of the fireworks presentations at the lake. I sometimes wonder where so many get the money for fireworks shows like that but I guess that really isn’t any of my business. I get to enjoy them for free and last night I got to enjoy them from my own front porch. Lovely.

  11. Donald Harrison
    Posted July 6, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I felt a similar way, Mark, casually checking it out and realizing how eclectically awesome the Ypsi parade can be – a strange, beautiful cross-section of what’s truly great about America. Sign me up for next year’s parade, whether that’s rolling bowling balls the road or something bizarre just because we can.

  12. Posted July 7, 2018 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Bowling down the street could be pretty cool… if you could keep from knocking over other marchers like pins.

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