The imperfect promise of the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is perhaps the biggest holiday in D.C. – but in addition to the celebration, there’s also a recognition of the lack of the full promise of freedom for all. We saw a lot on the Fourth, both celebrations and demonstrations.

Starting with the celebrations, the iconic fireworks were viewed by huge crowds:

©Rob Klug
©Angela N.
©Rob Klug

The crowd packed into the area around the Lincoln Memorial to get close to the fireworks.

©Angela N.

The White House was decorated in blue and red, with invited guests at a special viewing party for the fireworks.

©Angela N.

Earlier in the day, the festivities started with the traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the National Archives. As actors read the words, a cue card was raised telling the crowd when to boo at the list of the grievances we had against the British.

©Victoria Pickering

The traditional parade down Constitution Avenue was back this year after pausing for two years for the pandemic.

©Miki Jourdan
©Miki Jourdan
©Miki Jourdan
©Victoria Pickering
©Miki Jourdan

Kids played in fountains on the Mall while waiting for the fireworks to start:

Throughout the District, the flag was seen everywhere.

Freedom is not universal

Many groups have never felt free, or been free, in the U.S. This year, the lack of freedom was acutely felt by women who have had their reproductive choices imperiled by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

There were two abortion demonstrations on the Fourth. One was at the Supreme Court:

©Victoria Pickering
©Victoria Pickering

The other demonstration started with a rally at Lafayette Square by the White House, and then marched over to the Court. The group marched in a cloud of green smoke – green has now become the color representing reproductive rights.

©Stacey Lewis

To raise awareness for rising maternal mortality rates in women & girls (especially Black women), this woman had people pour a cup full of fake blood over her to show solidarity:

©Stacey Lewis

And during all the other activity, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival was going on, featuring the UAE. It’s obviously a complex issue as to how far the UAE has progressed toward freedom. One of the main demonstrations was on the expanding opportunities for females in falconry, where the practice that was traditionally for reserved for male elites is now pursued by an expanding group of females.

©Miki Jourdan
©Victoria Pickering

Remembering those who were not free on the Fourth

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. Frederick Douglass

Our late colleague Karen Ramsey wrote about the annual tradition of reading Frederick Douglass’s speech at his house, reminding us about the injustice that was part of the founding of this nation.

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