Stop Making the Fourth of July a Political Machine

Independence Day parade in Barnstable, Mass., 2015 (Reuters photo: Mike Segar)
In a college town, the Fourth of July parade is just another protest march.

Should Fourth of July parades be incubators for partisan political messaging, or common-ground celebrations of American community pride, period?

I went to my hometown parade yesterday. It was . . . weird. I come from Bloomington, Ind., home of Indiana University — a bit of a liberal mecca inside our Midwestern sea of political red. The parade would make a newbie guess that we were maybe in a suburb of Portland. It seemed like half the people marching were promoting universal health care or the Unitarian Church, or holding up signs that read things like, “Girls just wanna have fun-ding for Planned Parenthood.”

My sister joked that she should have worn a “Make America Great Again” shirt, as those are likely to receive harassment in these parts. As much as my mom complained about how “political” the parade had gotten, I didn’t mind it personally, but I also wondered if a Fourth of July parade was really the right venue to push a political agenda.

I appreciated the peaceful approach, as everyone was smiling, positive, and kind. I even took their handouts about health care. There wasn’t one iota of anti-Trump rhetoric. I smiled as an older woman came over with a piece of paper, saying “This is my daughter, she’s running for Congress!” with pride in her voice. The candidate herself followed, pushing a stroller, and telling people her name with enthusiasm. I liked her charisma off the bat. Part of me wanted to know what party she was belonged to, but I reminded myself it didn’t matter because today, we were one.

Parades and Fourth of July festivities have always been a place for political candidates to start building name ID, but I appreciated that this woman was doing just that — not pushing a particular message.

Did Republicans and conservatives opt out of marching in this parade from carelessness (because we have majorities in government, a bad reason to get complacent!), laziness, or respect for the holiday, which is meant to celebrate our country’s birth, our freedoms, and the many places that make their own unique marks on flyover country and big-city maps alike?

There were a couple of floats celebrating veterans, but they were minimal. It seems to me that birthday parties, even the ones for our nation, ought to bring people together to applaud the things we can all appreciate — those on the far right and far left and right there in the middle.

Birthday parties, even the ones for our nation, ought to bring people together to applaud the things we can all appreciate — those on the far right and far left and right there in the middle.

First and foremost, a Fourth of July parade should prioritize those who volunteered to serve our country in the military, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. In past years at this parade, I remember marchers with POW-MIA signs, and different floats for Vietnam veterans, veterans of foreign wars, Iraq War veterans, and more. Those were all absent this year.

The parade should also honor the local community, with plenty of Boy Scouts, school marching bands, local businesses, fair queens, and organizations represented. Some of that was present, but again, unimpressive.

Part of what makes our country so wonderful is the ability to create unique pockets of culture and community even just hours apart in the same state. No two small towns look the same, and we should showcase those differences with pride. I also liked the holiday approach of the local Hobby Lobby, which took out a two-page print ad in the local paper that simply printed portions of the Constitution and quotes from great Americans about patriotism.

Across the nation this year, we’ve had a Women’s March, a March for Life, a March for Science, and plenty of acts of free speech to support the #Resistance. There are 364 other days of the year to put on your political hat and march boldly forward to advance your heart’s agenda.

Independence Day might be the one day of the year not to wear all red or all blue, but to buy a cheap t-shirt emblazoned with the American flag and forget about who your neighbor voted for. It might be the day to pay it forward in line at Starbucks to the guy with the #TrumpTrain bumper sticker or the Bernie 2017 t-shirt. It might be the day to admit your political foes also have good intentions for the nation, even if you disagree with their methods of achieving them.

You may be upset with how certain things are going in America, but here’s the one day when you can focus on what you can’t deny is good and true: that we are a free people. And, yes, that means you are free to disagree with my assessment of parades or start gearing up your pro-open-borders immigration float for next year. But even if you do, I’ll wave my flag and smile back and hear what you have to say — because that’s the kind of American I want to be.


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