We have made it another year to the Fourth of July. But this year, the situation is much different. Our country, and the world, is engulfed in fighting a deadly pandemic that has already infected more than two million Americans, and killed more than 130,000. Horrific shootings of Black Americans have sparked a massive movement to finally confront the injustices and racial inequality that is endemic in our society. Now, more than ever, we should recognize the common bond and responsibility we have as Americans to care for each other’s wellbeing, no matter race, gender or background. As long as we do not, we cannot hope to live up to the values of liberty and justice for all we proudly profess.
Some 244 years ago, the founders of this country declared independence from England across the sea and set out to create a new nation, a republic where there would be no nobility or autocracy, but where the people would be able to choose their leaders and where all people were created equal. This is what we celebrate every Fourth of July with fireworks and barbecues, a document that laid out what we as Americans claim adherence to today.
And while the Declaration of Independence is a stunning document, that is all that it is, a document. Words on paper mean nothing if they are not put into action. The Declaration was just the beginning. Many died during the Revolutionary War so those words could be implemented. The Founders then created a Constitution to enshrine those words into a system of government, and General Washington became the first president of a newly independent United States of America.
This is where the story of Independence Day usually ends. However, one war and one group of brave Americans weren’t wholly responsible for where America is today. There was much more work to be done. Decades after the Revolution was fought, the Civil War broke out, and finally brought a legal end to the horrific practice of slavery that continued to be a stain on our country. There too, words needed to be backed up with action. President Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, to declare people held in slavery were to be freed. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, the original Juneteenth that many enslaved people in Texas were actually able to gain their freedom.
This process continued with the 19th Amendment to finally allow women to vote. It continued with the Civil Rights Movement where Black Americans fought to end Jim Crow laws and advocate for equal treatment under the law. Throughout the years, there have been brave Americans willing to fight to move us ever closer to truly living up to the words our nation was founded on. And if 2020 has shown us anything, we aren’t done. The story of America is a continuous struggle for independence and justice, for fellow Americans to finally be accorded the rights and respect they deserve.
At this moment we are living through another two tremendous moments in history, where we can decide whether to live up to our founding values or not. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed thousands of Americans from all walks of life and sickened millions. We can choose whether to band together and take appropriate safety measures, like wearing masks in public, in order to keep our fellow Americans safe, or being inconsiderate and potentially infecting vulnerable neighbors. We should also heed the calls for reform and justice from Black Americans and fellow Americans of color demanding an end to racism and biased institutional practices. Doing nothing would confirm our founding ideals don’t actually apply to everyone. It is long past time we took concrete steps to confront this.
So while I enjoy the festivities this Fourth of July, I also remember the ideals and beliefs we celebrate each Fourth of July aren’t accomplished yet. Our country should be constantly working toward making progress to step by step live up to those famous words from 200 years ago. We owe it to our fellow Americans to make liberty and justice for all a reality.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.