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What does Independence Day mean to you?

June 24, 2010

In the United States of America, the 4th of July is a holiday to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.    Yet celebratory activities are seldom in the revolutionary spirit of the original signing.  Traditional activities include a parade with a patriotic theme (plenty of red-white-and-blue and God-Bless-America boosterism), a barbeque picnic (since it’s often a nice summer day), and the obligatory fireworks (celebrating our martial heritage and/or flaunting local fire safety laws).

But what of the meaning of the event?

We propose a set of activities for the day that would highlight the historical import of the Declaration of Independence, the meaning it had for its signatories, the meaning it still holds for us over two centuries later, and how we might choose to carry the best of the spirit of the American Revolution forward.  These activities are loosely based on the tradition of the Passover Seder and Haggadah, engaging the minds of participants of all generations and improving our recollection of this momentous historical event. We invite Americans and other revolutionary thinkers to adopt and modify these suggestions to suit their own needs and understandings.

The ritual observance we propose for Independence Day has several interwoven pieces:

  1. The History: A brief retelling of why this day is of special importance, and what we wish to remember about the Declaration of Independence and the meaning of the American Revolution (use ours or construct your own).
  2. Discussion of the History: Time for all present to comment on what the History means to them in their current situation. The most important thing is not to exclude anyone’s perspective as we re-interpret the history in the context of the present.  We honor the founders most by engaging with our own problems, now, with some of the courage and vision they showed two centuries ago.
  3. The Meal: Special foods really ground a commemorative event.  While there’s nothing wrong with the traditional 4th of July picnic or barbecue (with potato salad, hot dogs, and the like), they don’t have anything in particular to do with the history behind the celebration.  An idea we had is to focus on the “Three Sisters” (corn, beans and squash), three classically American foods that also represent the concept of Interdependence. Native Americans interplanted these three crops together because they help one another grow.  The beans fix nitrogen in the soil to encourage the growth of all three plants.  The corn provides a tall stalk on which the beans can climb. The squash shades the ground to help retain water and prevent the growth of weeds. Of course there are countless tasty ways of preparing these.  We are also borrowing from the Passover tradition the idea of eating fresh vegetables dipped in salt water, representing the idea that new growth is often accompanied by sweat and tears.  And of course there’s no harm in having a nice Red, White and Blue dessert.
  4. A New Declaration: The reading of a New Declaration (either one drafted by one or more of the participants, one of the New Declarations of Interdependence we wrote, or one of the Declarations of Interdependence that have been proposed by others before).
  5. Discussion of the Future: Time for all present to comment on their response to the New Declaration and how they plan to act on it in the coming year.

If you like, have a look at our more detailed description for staging your own Independence Day celebration, including a deeper explanation of the meaning behind the activities in our observance.