Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July, Then and Now

The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. This was mostly because I was always actively involved in one sort of celebration or another.

In my home town, we have had a parade for the last 156 years. I can only remember watching the parade, maybe two or three years at most. Every other year, when at home, I was a participant, part of one contingent or another. I rode on floats, marched in bands, rollerskated in a blue sequined vest and rode my Hello Kitty bike passing out voter registration cards. Last year and the year before, I was the Executive Producer of the local Access TV coverage of the parade.

During the years I was away from home, particularly years spent in the military, my participation was far more patriotic. We shined our boots to look like glass, wore helmets and carried weapons onto a parade field where we stood as a Howitzer gun was shot off in tribute to each of the 50 states. Those field ceremonies always ended with the order, "Pass and Review," which meant we would march in formation past the presiding officer, usually a General, to a series of Sousa Marches. My favorite was always Stars and Stripes Forever, and I'll freely admit that the first time I marched in such a formation to that music, I did so with a lump in my throat.

This year was a little different. I wasn't in the parade. In fact, I didn't even attend. Instead we had a very low key barbecue at the house, with a couple of friends. We made homemade wine coolers, skewered shrimp onto bamboo sticks for the grill, and socialized. My oldest son schlepped his drum set onto the driveway where he beat to his heart's content under the shade structure we had erected. And later, after we ate, the kids played soccer on our speck of a lawn using chairs as goal posts, providing laughter to us all.

Instead of going out to see fireworks, we watched the PBS special from the National Mall, that included Barry Manalow, Aretha, the 1812 Overture (with live cannons) and of course fireworks over the nations capital to Stars and Stripes Forever. I smiled the whole time.

Why the change to a more passive celebration? Good question. I suppose that it's partially because of the work I've been doing lately around independent voices and their contribution to democracy. The work is grueling to say the least, but not since my time in the military have I been so convinced that what I do on a daily basis, really makes a meaningful difference. So maybe I'm not as inclined to make such a grandiose gesture to show my patriotism. Right now I am very lucky to do work that emphasizes the value of good journalism that is not part of the mainstream corporate media conglomerations. And, I'm quite proud to be a voice in a larger conversation that really focuses on E Pluribus Unum, and by this I mean gaining a genuine understanding of what that phrase means, specifically in public discourse.

So, yeah, it was a nice low key celebration yesterday. Mostly because today, I am focused on my real work, which goes beyond celebration to really trying to make a difference.

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