Holly Richardson: Independence Day in the time of a pandemic
(John Minchillo | AP Photo)
In this June 19 photo, fireworks explode during Juneteenth celebrations above the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The Manhattan skyline is seen in the background. They light up the sky in celebration, best known in the U.S. as a way to highlight Independence Day. This year, fireworks aren't being saved for special events. They've become a nightly nuisance from Connecticut to California, angering sleep-deprived citizens and alarming local officials.
Celebrating the day a group of men became traitors to the crown will be a bit different in a year of pandemic and drought.
Our family is not headed up the canyon but to the backyard for a rousing game of badminton. Once it’s too hot to stay outside, we will head inside to watch Hamilton, a rollicking tribute to this country’s first public administrator.
We will definitely have hamburgers, popsicles, “frog-eye” salad and red, white and blue Jell-o, because what’s a holiday without food?? And, we will refrain from lighting the neighborhood on fire.
In addition, this year we are also having a different kind of conversation about the founding of this country. We are talking about the 3/5 compromise, which meant that Black slaves were considered 3/5 of a person, letting Southern states gain seats in Congress without actually humanizing those slaves.
The 13th Amendment made slavery illegal (except within the judicial system) but Black citizens were prevented from voting by various and sundry means for another 100 years. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 removed some of those barriers, but as has been made abundantly clear recently, racism is still woven throughout our country.
As a nation, we have a long history of “other-izing” people. From Chinese immigrants who built much of California and the early railroad, to people of Japanese descent sent to internment camps, even right here in Utah
. Discrimination continues against Latinx communities, Pacific Islanders and folks of Jewish descent. Why do we do that? How can we make it better? Those are questions we are talking about this weekend.
We are having conversations about why women were not included in the Declaration of Independence. The lines we know so well, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men” really did mean men as in males and not humankind.
In spite of feisty women like Abigail Adams, who in 1776, admonished her husband, John Adams to “remember the ladies,” women had very few rights for many years to follow. Abigail warned “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”
That may be overstating it, but nevertheless, it would be almost 150 years before women got the right to vote (1920) and more than 50 more after that before we could even get a credit card in our own names (1974).
There is a lot to love about the United States of America. It does not detract from that love to also note there is a lot that can be improved. I have been encouraged by the many friends and associates who have stepped up, ready to listen, to learn, to make changes and to take a stand.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate, professor and author of “Night,” his memoir of surviving the Holocaust, died four years ago on July 2, 2016. His fight for freedom was different than that of the Founding Fathers but no less important. He was not afraid to take a stand. He was blunt and why wouldn’t he be? He survived the worst of humanity and he was unafraid to share what he learned.
“Indifference,” he said, is “the epitome of evil.”
The times we live in demand that we not stay silent.
“We must take sides,” said Wiesel. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Robert Frost wrote “Freedom lies in being bold.” Perhaps that is this year’s rallying cry. Be bold. Be bold in our conversations, our actions and our interactions. Be bold in our quest to learn more, feel more, love more and understand more. Be bold.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.