As we prepare to enjoy barbecues and watch fireworks this Fourth of July, there’s no reason to leave liberal politics at the door. Independence Day is a holiday today’s American liberals should embrace. It is an opportunity to highlight what’s best in America by promoting the progressive values that animate our country. It’s a time to Celebrate Liberally.
What is “Celebrating Liberally?” It is part of “Living Liberally” – the idea that we can extend our political beliefs into our everyday life. When you work and play, learn and spend, you can do so as a liberal. You can seek out and promote equality, diversity and inclusion; you can act with a concern for common resources and a commitment to the common good; you can embrace free-speech, creativity and joy. In doing all this, you are living liberally.
Living Liberally is also the national network of progressive social gatherings – best known for 300+ Drinking Liberally happy hours – that I helped start seven years ago.
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Our chapters of Drinking Liberally, Screening Liberally and Eating Liberally around the country have taught me new ways to work liberally, learn liberally … and even celebrate liberally. Which brings us to our nation’s birthday. A holiday greedily seized by the Tea Party right-wing radicals. However, this is not their day.
Liberals have as much right to the symbolism of the Fourth of July as anyone. As we wave the American flag, we know we are signaling our support for a separation of church and state, for a nation based on laws over the whims of the powerful and for a historical arc toward greater tolerance and enfranchisement.
In my view, being a liberal means you believe that we are better off when we live for each other than when we live only for ourselves.
That’s the simplest motivating idea behind our politics, our cultural identity as “liberals” and the book I’m now touring the country with: “538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal.”
One of the best ways to live like a liberal this Fourth of July is to read the Declaration of Independence, the document that makes this the day we honor. For one day, people would be willing to listen if you read it out loud. For this one day, they wouldn’t think you were crazy – or, if they did, their mouths would be full of barbecued burgers anyway, so they would not object.
In the second paragraph of our nation’s document is a phrase that has echoed for over 200 years and should resonate through the centuries to come:
“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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The first part is famously embraced in American rhetoric and equally famously ignored in action. While trumpeting equality, our country has not always lived it. However, this founding text has given the great protesters and change agents in our country’s history the rhetorical ammunition to call for progress. While America has not always lived up to its ideals, our ability as a nation to evolve to meet these lofty goals is one of the characteristics that makes America great.
The call for equality is not reflected in the anti-immigration zealotry of the Tea Party. Recognition of the pursuit of happiness is not present in the campaigns to prevent two people in love from getting married. Our side has far more standing to invoke these lines our founders wrote. A holiday that champions equality is a liberal holiday.
So, when you see a Tea Partier waving a flag, give them a hug for supporting gay rights, immigrant rights and civil rights. Because that’s what the flag represents to us.
The second line I quoted from the Declaration is just as important: “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” It is an argument for government. When the founders overthrew British rule, they were not anarchists who sought to undo government entirely. They simply wanted a more representative form of government.
Today’s right wing wants to see government fail because conservatives don’t believe we need any government at all. Liberals, though, see government as a tool for promoting broad prosperity, creating opportunity, securing common resources and ensuring public health. This is the spirit of the Declaration and the American Revolution and a principle liberal America embraces.
We live in an era where extremists in Texas are writing Thomas Jefferson out of the history books. These days, the economic collapse caused by unaccountable corporate oligarchs is forcing our cities and states to layoff teachers and close libraries. Learning history isn’t as easy or obvious as it could be. On this highest of American holidays, we should discuss this history.
So, bring the Declaration to your Fourth of July celebration – or Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” or other texts from the era – and create the communal experience of hearing these words together and discussing them after.
There are plenty of other simple steps for liberalizing your Independence Day. You can use compostable plates and napkins, or, better yet, reusable ones, to reduce waste. You could buck the bad business behavior of the beef industry by seeking out local meat providers or switching to more health-conscious, labor-friendly and environmentally-sane vegetable options. You can pour local beer as you drink liberally to support independent brewers.
In addition to what you consume, though, this holiday is a chance to think about what we share. Our founders were declaring independence from King George … but not independence from each other. They knew they needed each other to survive and they needed a mechanism to pool their shared resources for common goals. That cooperation was important then and it’s what we liberals see as critical now: independence from the monarchs and oligarchs and interdependence with each other in our increasingly intertwined world.
We’re all in this together. Shouting that refrain while waving the flag would make our founders proud and will help you celebrate a little more liberally.