In disappointment, there is opportunity. So, while the Fourth of July will be a little quieter and less combustible this year, it still can be a meaningful celebration.
Indeed, that celebration will be atypical. Washington is emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, with restrictions recently removed. Despite that growing sense of freedom, there is the dichotomy of having fireworks prohibited in unincorporated Clark County because of increased fire danger. (The sale and use of fireworks already had been banned within the city of Vancouver.) And many traditional public events have been canceled because of the lingering threat of COVID-19, even as that threat diminishes.
All of that makes for a most unusual Independence Day. We can long for a return of the expansive celebration at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, or for neighborhood fireworks displays untempered by climate concerns. But the restrictions on this year’s Fourth of July remind us that independence is at the heart of the occasion and that fireworks are essential to the pageantry of the holiday but not its significance.
The celebration dates back to 1776, when the Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence and announced the political separation of the 13 American colonies from British rule. That declaration included: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
While the United States has sometimes failed to live up to those ideals, the words remain a goal both attainable and desirable. They also hearken back to the beginning of a unique experiment in a new form of government, one that for two centuries has survived threats both foreign and domestic.
Most recently, that government survived an attack from within, as insurrectionists overran the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The wounds of the event remain fresh, and yet our system of government and our freedoms remain sturdy.
Therein lies the opportunity. The attempt to overthrow our government seven months ago should be cause for reflection from all Americans — reflection that carries additional weight on Independence Day. Because independence without an enduring system of government that effectively serves the people is anarchy.
Therefore, we celebrate not only our rights as Americans, but the unique system that has preserved those rights and allowed them to flourish for centuries. When a despot tries to become a dictator, our Constitution and our spirit are strong enough to endure.
That is the case with or without fireworks, even if Founding Father John Adams famously wrote to his wife that Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Because of the fire danger — temperatures of 115 degrees tend to turn foliage and pines into kindling — residents should heed the concerns of local officials and abstain from explosives this Fourth of July. Let us keep our homes and those of our neighbors safe, and let us be careful with barbecues or anything else that can spark a blaze.
But let us also rejoice in the strength of the United States and a celebration of our freedoms. In many ways, those freedoms are more meaningful than ever.