By Josie Kalipeni
On July 4, 1776, the 13 colonies that would become the first states declared independence from Great Britain. Members of the Continental Congress accepted and signed a document outlining the colonies’ grievances with the crown. The distant, out-of-touch monarchy, who taxed but hardly executed the best interests of the colonists, was deemed oppressive and abusive. So, according to the white men who would become known as the Founders, it was necessary to secede and become a sovereign nation. This act was the official beginning of a revolution — a difficult, violent process that was necessary for its (white male) citizens to realize the freedom and agency they desired.
This July 4th, it would benefit us, between the fireworks, sales, and barbecues, to remember what the holiday was originally about: a group of people who were fed up with a government that no longer represented their best interests and who successfully fought to create a country that matched their values.
Almost 250 years later, we have just as many reasons to be similarly fed up with those who claim to represent us. Our nation’s understanding of what it means to be an independent and fully actualized citizen has not kept up with the times.
Each day it seems even more of our rights and resources are slashed for the sole benefit of an increasingly small group made up mostly of wealthy white men. We pay taxes that fund wars and bail out corporations and provide salaries for elected representatives who don’t enact the will of the people. Indigenous folks, who were here first, are in a constant battle to keep what little land that was ceded to them, including fighting to avoid further environmental disaster. Roe v. Wade was just overturned, an act that puts the health of all people with wombs in peril, particularly poor women and women of color. Parents and caregivers of the babies who are already here with us still struggle to find infant formula, which is among the necessities that have skyrocketed in price due to overwhelming inflation.
Shopping for those necessities, if you’re fortunate enough not to live or work in a food desert, can be as dangerous as going to school. School has become a place where many children don’t receive adequate or equitable education from teachers who are underpaid and forced to pay for supplies with their own money. Yet that sacrifice is hardly enough, since the government’s refusal to pass gun reform, despite the inconceivable number of school shootings, means both school children and teachers must also be willing to give their lives.
The great irony of July 4th is that, today, Britain has more social safety nets for its citizens than the US. We still lack a comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave policy, whose necessity was made even more apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic, which remains ongoing despite our behavior to the contrary. And those who do have adequate leave and health care receive it as a benefit from their employer, meaning if they must leave or lose their job, for any reason, they no longer have access to that benefit. That’s hardly independence. It’s hardly freedom.
Let’s make July 4th meaningful again. Let’s demand that our basic rights — our right to racial, economic, gender, and reproductive justice, universal health care, an environmentally healthy world, safe schools, and a thriving wage, including paid leave — be met. Let’s challenge our representatives with the same spirit with which the Founders of this nation confronted the Crown until our daily lives look like what this day is supposed to symbolize — the freedom to live and thrive on our terms.
Josephine Kalipeni is the executive director of Family Values @ Work. Follow her on Twitter at @malawian81.