So, here I am again, awash in ambivalence as the Fourth of July approaches, although it will be history by the time you read this. It is not an easy holiday for me, and each year I try to celebrate the values that underlie the incredible saga of our country’s independence and structural organization in ways other than exploding things or distributing excessive sugar treats. What are we celebrating?
A few years ago, I walked in the parade with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, some of her staff members and other supporters like myself. I was handing out Amy brochures to onlookers, and one woman threw her hands up in protest as if I were trying to hand her a lighted cherry bomb. I asked, “Do you have some issue with Amy?” She spit out, “The politicians should go home. The parade is for the kids.” Wow. I seriously wondered if she knew that we were celebrating Independence Day and the right to elect our political leaders. Did she think we were doing this to be able to shower her children or grandchildren with candy and entertain them with clowns? Do the kids have any idea what all the flags are about?
I’ve been in a lot of parades, marching with the Brownies or Girl Scouts every year as a kid in Illinois; with the giant EMPOWER puppet, wearing banners declaring the core values our country was built on, and handing out messages of peace wrapped in mini-Tootsie rolls; with Senator Klobuchar, et al; and with the Sustainable Ely crew, marching to speak up for protecting our clean water and the Boundary Waters from the toxic waste of copper mining. Walking with each of those groups, there were occasional catcalls, boos and rude comments, particularly from a drunken crew in front of one of the bars. That wasn’t pleasant, but it was the live theater of free speech in action, regardless of your opinions or your state of sobriety. There were also many more cheers and flags waving in support of our messages. I thought it odd that people felt they had to be ugly when faced with others who had a difference of opinion, so certain that they’re right that they don’t have to be respectful, and it just strengthened my resolve to speak up and publicly declare my values. All of that was set in what was always a rather quiet parade route, with burst of cheers for the kids participating, as if people don’t quite know what to do with the adults marching in front of them.
I just remembered another year when I walked with the Veterans for Peace float that had markers and names for every Minnesotan killed in Iraq. During the lineup, some men were furious and attempted to block the float from the parade. They appealed to the mayor and some city council members who were in the lineup, demanding that they bar the float and the walkers. Fortunately, the city officials responded appropriately, saying it was a matter of free speech, and that if they barred the float, they could have a lawsuit on their hands. I was grateful for their awareness and willingness to do what was right. And I was puzzled by the whole incident, as well: the float was honoring the men and women who had fought for their country and given their lives, while also pointing out the cost of war in money and lives. What could be more appropriate in the Fourth of July parade? There should be remembrance and gratitude with some somber moments. It’s not all about clowns and fire engines, but I guess people don’t want to be reminded of the reality of war. Remember President George W. Bush forbidding the filming of the flag-covered caskets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan? He claimed it was in the name of compassion for the families of the victims, but that was a transparent effort to disguise the disguise. Let’s just wave the flag, sing the patriotic songs, keep the citizenry in the dark, and keep those recruits signing up for the glory of God and country.
So, what are we celebrating? It’s such an odd time in our country, with a polarized Congress and Legislature that have hamstrung any forward progress; where it seems like so many elected officials are motivated only by greed, power and re-election and willing to lie to get what they want. Where they’d rather lay down and die before they’d collaborate with anyone from “across the aisle.” Indeed, some national party officials threaten to withhold financial support from candidates who do not strictly adhere to the party line.
I’m sitting out on my deck, 9 o’clock at night, surrounded by the sounds of warfare. People in my neighborhood shoot off HUGE amounts of fireworks, sounding like assault weapons, terrorizing the birds. Maybe there was a contest I didn’t hear about. What is this obsession with noise that went on until 1 a.m. two nights ago? In the pyrotechnics world of DIY fireworks, they’re called “thump junkies.” Americans will spend $675 million this year on fireworks and one billion dollars on beer. Households will spend an average of $370 on the 4th of July event. I’d better get clipping…I only spent money on the ingredients for brownies I took to a picnic.
One of those really loud ones just exploded, the kind that make your chakras shake and get all the neighborhood dogs barking. I am reminded of the movie “G.I. Jane”, where the woman played by Demi Moore is trying to win her place as the first female SEAL. After a grueling ordeal, the female doctor is checking her over and asks, “Why are you doing this?” Demi responds, “Do you ask the guys that question?” Dr. responds, “Yes.” Demi: “What do they say?” Dr.: “We get to blow stuff up.” And I am reminded of my inner city neighborhood in Minneapolis where loud explosions meant guns and possible injury or death.
I understand the fascination with fire. I’m a potter and intrigued by playing with the elements of earth, water and fire. I just don’t get the noise addiction. I went out for breakfast with a friend, fully prepared to ask them to turn down the ubiquitous music that is almost always too loud, regardless of the time of day, and often too rowdy for breakfast. Instead, I found it was even worse. They had a radio talk show on, blaring over the personal conversations at the tables. We were able to sit outside, or we wouldn’t have stayed. I do get very tired of having to ask for a bit of reasonable quiet so I can visit with a friend.
I’m off track here, but maybe there’s a connection. The more we surround ourselves with noise and clutter that we have to tune out, the more numbed-out we become, the less we can tune in and pay attention. I hear a baby wailing her objection to the obnoxious, painful, scary explosions. I’m with ya’, kid.
P.S. I did watch the fireworks. I love the brilliant displays of color, but they really were WAY too loud.