The United States of America has never been, and will probably never be a perfect country. It, like every other country, has its problems, but unlike in many other countries, it’s considered unpatriotic to point them out. In other countries you can be killed or tortured for criticizing the government; here, you’re safe from legal punishment, but can still be socially persecuted. This country was built on questioning the system, so questioning could not be more patriotic. This country was also built on systemic racism, slavery, sexism, and the erasure of native peoples, and has a history of homophobia and environmental degradation. It’s perpetuated oppressive and evil systems, but it’s also stood up to oppressive and evil systems. We live in a country where we are generally safe from things like war and torture. We also live in a country where we aren’t safe from mass shootings and environmental racism. We live in a country that promotes freedom and the ability to be exactly who you are without fear of being killed for it, but our country also hasn’t come full circle with its need to promote true justice and equality. This can sound complicated and dense, but here’s the thing—this is where we live, and it could be worse.
With that in mind, celebrating the Fourth of July doesn’t have to be problematic. Again, we live here, so celebrating that can be both therapeutic and fun. It is also important, because when celebrated mindfully, this holiday can be a way for us to express what we want our country to become, what’s good about it, and what needs to be changed. There aren’t only two options of listening to country music and praising everything about the USA mindlessly or pretending that it’s not a holiday. If you want to do either of those, that is your choice (and marginalized people should never be shamed for being angry or not in the celebrating mood on days like that—no one should pretend to understand their pain or determine how they experience it). But if you really want to help America be all that it could be or you’re just sick of not knowing how to celebrate, there are many ways to celebrate intentionally. This country has done some bad things and promoted bad things. But it has also done some amazing things and it’s capable of a lot. However exclusive its context was, this nation was founded on freedom. That in itself is the ultimate recipe for an equitable, progressive, freeing place for everyone. We need to work on fulfilling that vision and that ideal baked into the foundation, but extending that freedom more fully for everyone. We need to come to terms with our past and our problems, but not let them erase everything good about this place. There is so much good here—ask anyone from another country. So alongside the horrible issues and oppression, there is hope.
So on this Independence Day, just know that it’s okay to celebrate it, and as mentioned, it’s pretty important that you do (mindfully). Celebrate in a way that feels good for you. Here are some ideas:
You can contact your government representatives about issues that matter to you.
Whether you want to protect your right to safe abortion or you want our country to prioritize spending on stopping climate change, make that known to your government representatives on the holiday. Nothing is more patriotic than pushing for the improvement of your country, so this is a festive thing to do on our national holiday. You can call your governor, or you can make an event of it! Spend a few hours emailing and calling those in charge on your own, or invite fully vaccinated people over and make red, white, and blue snacks while you all spend an hour doing that on your laptops and phones. Make it a formal event if that sounds fun, so everyone can dress up! After, make a toast with champagne or red wine to the changes you all are fighting for and have a vegan meal together!
If you haven’t already, register to vote.
Voting is patriotic. It’s absolutely among the most impactful things you can do in this country, so make sure you are registered. If you are, consider just researching the candidates for the next local election and make a list of who you plan on voting for so you can make an informed decision for your community. Even on a local level, who you vote for really impacts the country as a whole since change begins there. If you want to push for a specific issue (like a county-wide ban on plastic bags), write the candidate you plan on voting for and ask them to make it a part of their campaign.
Pick up litter.
The beautification and protection of the nation’s ecosystems is very important to its overall well-being as a country. Being a part of that is a great thing to do on the Fourth of July. Do it alone in the morning for thirty minutes by going on a walk and bringing bags and gloves, and if you plan on getting in a local river to clean that up just make sure you are wearing the right clothing and shoes. If you want to make it into a more festive event, invite fully vaccinated people and ask them all to wear red, white, blue and green to represent the greening of America! Go in a circle before you head out and each talk about your favorite natural place in the country, pass out gloves and bags, and then spend an hour or two cleaning up the local woods, neighborhoods or water systems. When you’re done, you can all meet back up for vegan snacks and hydrating drinks.
Have a vegan dinner party.
This doesn’t have to be dinner—it can be brunch, a BBQ, or just a cocktail party, but having a vegan party can be patriotic and festive for a few reasons. Firstly, you can make red, white, and blue foods so it can be extra fun (vegan coconut cake, cherries, blue sourdough sandwiches, jicama, etc.). Decorate with red and white flowers and blue eco-friendly decor (like paper crafts or banners), and even have a patriotic dress code (like red formal attire or or clothes with stars on them). Secondly, eating vegan reduces your footprint which can help sustain the country’s health and improve its future. This is a great thing to support on the fourth.
Vegan BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich, anyone?
Knowledge really is power, and visiting historic sites in the country is a really effective way to more deeply learn about it. If you’re on the East Coast of the United States, visit Philadelphia and learn about the beginnings of the country you live in, or visit the Smithsonian Museums in D.C. for free! If you’re on the West Coast of the country, visit old mining towns, pop culture spots, and the Oregon Trail to learn about famous periods. Get acquainted with the history, roots, culture, and scenery of the country as much as you can on this holiday. If you don’t have access to these spaces or want to stick close to home, consider picking up a book about an era from the country’s history that interests you.
Donate to conservation in the country.
Protecting our country’s wild spaces is important because of their intrinsic value, as well as the fact that their interconnection to all habitats around us means that our health relies on their health. Help improve natural spaces by donating to organizations, and learn more about the spaces that money is helping to protect. Ask your friends to also donate and offer an incentive, like whoever donates gets vegan chocolate from you.
Donate to causes that protect and support people who weren’t included in the Declaration of Independence.
Women and the BIPOC community were not included in this historic document, and they still are having to fight for them in many senses. Environmental racism is real. Women still make 70 cents to every dollar a man makes. Asian Americans, Black people, queer people, and women suffer from hate crimes and violence. Too many Native women are still missing. Spend the day making things better for them. Donate to causes that help them, support them, or help educate others about them. Send money, a coffee, flowers, or a gift of some kind to people in those communities that you have in your life. If we want this to truly be “the land of the free,” we need to work to ensure that it’s free for everyone. We have a ton of freedom and privileges here in the U.S. for sure. Every American is very fortunate to be one, but that doesn’t negate the fact that people still suffer here, and life isn’t as easy here for those in these populations as it is for straight, white, American males. Making your holiday about helping everyone else and bringing that American freedom to them (or the hope for it) is a fantastic way to celebrate the country and the citizens of it.
Honor someone in the military or a veteran.
Whether or not you agree with the concept of the military, the fact is that people have sacrificed their time, safety, lives, and mental health to protect us. That’s honorable in itself, so while you should not enjoy the idea of war, understand that the people in the military aren’t war or violence itself. They’re people. They’re away from their homes and families, and they’re having to give up a lot to be there in order to do something that you don’t have to do. Many come home with trauma, and can’t live normal lives again. Today is a really good day to thank them. Buy a veteran or an active military member dinner. Send a care package to the troops. Donate to organizations that help those who suffer from PTSD after military service. Buy coffee for the next veteran or active duty soldier who comes in the coffee shop you’re at. Do something kind for someone who served in the U.S. military. It goes a really long way.
Just enjoy the summer day.
If none of this appeals to you and you really just aren’t into the idea of the holiday but you want to celebrate something, celebrate summer. Go to the beach. Drink margaritas (responsibly). Play outside. Eat vegan tacos or açai bowls. Soak up the sun and just have a fun holiday for yourself. There is nothing wrong with that.
Celebrating the Fourth of July should ultimately be about striking a balance between being grateful for this country, and seeing it for what it is. This should be a day of celebrating our freedoms and acknowledging where progress is really needed. That is ultimately the most productive balance to ensure growth is made, and it’s the best for our own well-being. Those who have suffered here due to policies and oppression have every right to be angry, and honor that in whatever way is best for them. They shouldn’t be shamed, and this day may need to be a day to express those feelings for them or just to sit with their feelings. But if you aren’t in those marginalized populations or spending the day in those ways doesn’t appeal to you or support you, hopefully these ideas brought you some clarity as to how you can make the most of the day. At the end of it all, that’s what it’s all about.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn; Lindsey Blakley