The 4th of July is an important holiday to remember just what it means to be an American. Our nation was conceived in a radical concept of liberty based on the philosophy of natural, individual rights and limits on government. Albeit, by current standards, the early conceptualization of this ideal was less than perfect, but in truth our founding fathers did make great leaps in our understanding of the role of government.
For many years, however, this day has been dedicated to “remembering our troops” be they our veterans from the past or our current sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, serving in contemporary foreign wars. Regardless of where you stand on the issues of war (this writer has always been against war) it is crucial that we understand that, overall, our soldiery is serving with the best interests of the country and the freedoms and ideas our nation represents, foremost in their minds. This valor and sacrifice must always be recognized.
But it’s not just the soldiers who make this country great. For years now I’ve advocated that the fourth of July not be dedicated solely to the soldier. The independence of our nation and the ongoing chronicle of human freedom, liberty and justice is not specifically a soldier’s story. To recognize only the soldier on Independence Day is to dwell in nationalism and even militarism.
American freedom has been a long contest of wills among men and women who fought not only in the trenches, in our cities and farms. They are activists and protestors, dissidents who dared to defy and deny the primacy of the status quo. From abolitionists, to labor leaders, to civil rights activists. Those who spoke out for the dispossessed and disempowered, whether on the soapbox, or in the streets, through oratory, literature or art, also lay the groundwork for American freedom. Many even gave their lives for their cause.
Today, activists continue to challenge our concepts of freedom and justice, whether they are those in the gay and lesbian movement, to those who recognize that everyone in the world should have the same rights demanded by Americans, to those who suggest that there were rights our founders missed, like rights to health care, meaningful work and a clean environment. Millions of activists and volunteers diligently strive to extend the vision of our founders to all people through a global vision.
Millions more Americans, just through their everyday labors have, like soldiers, dedicated their professional lives to reinforcing the American dream. Police officers, firefighters and EMS workers endeavor to make our communities safer. Social workers and nurses often selflessly tend to those in need. Throughout the country doctors give of their time and knowledge in clinics and in service to the poor. Lawyers take on pro-bono work for the sake of helping the maligned. Teachers struggle to overcome all obstacles to learning so that every one of their students can be the best citizen possible. These and many other every day heroes all contribute to make our nation a better place. Their stories are no less important that those of the soldier in the field.
So this fourth of July let’s dedicate ourselves to the recognition of what makes our nation great, and how to perpetuate the great experiment in enlightened government begun by the founding fathers on this date two-hundred and thirty-four years ago.