Over 242 years have passed since America was emancipated from its British reigns, thus beginning a new chapter in history with America as its own author. We’ve had 242 years to write our stories, define our own progress, and be in control.
To commemorate this newfound freedom, we take a Wednesday off from work, put the American flag out on our lawns, and end our day with a hot-dog-filled, barbecue-smelling, and firework-awing extravaganza. However, what exactly compels the American people to continue this tradition over the course of 242 years? What defined the people of America back then when this country and celebration was first created and continues to define the people of America now?
Perhaps the “audacity” to point out flaws in the national government constitutes an American. We weren’t afraid to expose the United Kingdom for their inequitable practices in the late 1700s (it’s impossible to forget “no taxation without representation”), and there is no denying that we continue to do so with the current administration. Don’t blame us; it’s not our fault that we were given freedom of speech in the First Amendment and that Trump has given us plenty of material to work with.
Or maybe Americans are distinguished by their desire for self-made success. Had America not been formed in 1776, then the country would have probably been conceived in 1777; it would have only been a matter of time before the colonies stepped out of England’s shadow. Now, we strive for the most gold medals at the Olympics, dominate global music charts, and fill the world with the technology of iPhones and other devices.
To me though, Americans are defined by one word: unity. Before the Declaration of Independence was written, the Patriots became a force to be reckoned with the sheer power of numbers and an insurmountable grit to be freed from the shackles of colonization. And we have that same united front today. In spite of the most polarizing president in recent history, Americans rallied throughout the country for “Families Belong Together” last Saturday; students from coast to coast protested gun control in the “March for Our Lives,” and the 2018 Women’s March exemplified an undeniable sense of self-worth from millions of participants.
Unity is even ingrained into the literature we read and the music we listen to. John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” discussed this idea through his intercalary chapters, where he discussed the emerging need for starved and desperate migrants to organize and strike against wealthy and monopolizing farm owners, and Lana Del Rey’s “Change” finds more power in 2018 than when the track originally debuted in 2017. The singer, originally known for her noir croons, begins with self-doubt (“I’ve been thinkin’ it’s just someone else’s job to care/ Who am I to wanna try?”) before lyrics evolve into a collective optimism:
There’s a change gonna come / I don’t where or when / But whenever it does / We’ll be here for it
It’s a message that has resonated with truth throughout American history. Throughout all the reforms and trauma, the American people have always rose up together to respond, never sitting passively in the backseat to let one person write the future.
And that’s why we continue to celebrate the Fourth of July, because it was the first action taken as nation, a defining unity that has granted us one powerful voice that we have utilized for movement upon movement, protest upon protest. But the best is yet to come.