Most of my life, I have loved the 4th of July. As a child, It wasn’t just the swimming, hot dogs and ice cream, sparklers, and the fireworks later on at the high school. I loved (and do love) my country and I was proud of it. I became interested in social studies in junior high and high school (thank you, Mr. Bohl, Mr. Torrance, and others). I got a degree in political science and one in English with an emphasis in American Studies. On this particular 4th of July, I am sad and fearful (more on this below).
For years, I have embraced the idea of being an active and outspoken citizen. I
- butted heads occasionally with teachers whom I deemed were unfair: I got sent to the principal’s office for not backing down to a teacher, paddled by another, etc.,
- co-wrote a letter about unfair labor practices at my first job (Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan) that resulted in some changes. My proudest moment there was when I refused to wait on Orville Hubbard, then mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, who at the time refused to allow African-Americans to live in that city,
- marched against the war in Vietnam,
- canvassed for the Poor People’s March after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated,
- supported the BAM (Black Action Movement) student strike at the University of Michigan–except when I crossed the picket line to go to my urban politics classes,
- sent to Congress my comments related to the possible drawbacks of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for native peoples, submitted as part of ENACT’s (Environmental Action for Survival) testimony in 1971,
- spent years explaining to adult immigrants and refugees about civil rights and responsibilities in the United States (Note: I wrote a textbook on these matters: Community Experiences: Reading and Communication for Civics),
- watched, tears in my eyes, decades of Rolling Thunder rides in D.C.; didn’t like the war, respected the warriors,
- visited/loved scores of national parks, monuments, memorials, forests, and trails and worked in two (Zion National Park and Grand Canyon National Park),
- volunteered in my community, from helping children learn about the watershed and planting American elms for the U.S. Park Service to working at programs that feed the hungry.
Reviewing this list, I see the smallness of my efforts. I think I need to do more for our tattered social fabric and for our endangered natural world.
Today and yesterday and these last months and three years have been difficult for me. I am sad about the continuing (possibly escalating) pandemic, and some of the responses to it. I am sad about those who died and their loved ones. I am sad about the current and uncivil strife, within the government and everywhere else. I want the American promises I believed in so much when I was young to be true and available to all. I used to extol the power and goodness of our laws, government, and social system to the adult immigrants I taught. I don’t think I could do that today. I am fearful of catching Covid-19 from those people who sashay past me without their masks. I am fearful of continued undermining of the concept of three equal parts of the federal government and a descent into authoritarianism.
However, writing this article has cheered me up. From my window, I see the flag of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial blowing in the wind. The mockingbird who flies around here landed on our balcony a little while ago. On our walks, many people in this diverse National Capital Area give us hearty, happy greetings and we send our goodwill back to them. Tom is making pizza for dinner tonight. I think we will watch another episode of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea tonight. I am feeling hopeful now, so I am ending with a few national park photos.