Celebrate your citizenship!

This year notwithstanding, the 4th of July is all about family and fireworks for us these days; my husband and boys truly love to set stuff on fire, and this is their one chance to do so.

But I make sure to always work in a celebration of our most precious privileges and responsibilities as citizens, especially after having spent years of Independence Days registering voters, rallying folks for comprehensive immigration reform, and reminding others of our shared heritage in this nation where so many are immigrants, or their descendants.

So, this Fourth of July, in between firework displays or family cookouts or parades or however else you celebrate, here are five ideas for how to celebrate this country, and, in the process, keep the true spirit of Independence Day (rowdy uprising against an oppressive power) alive. Happy celebrating!

  • 1. Protest something: Grab some posterboard and a marker or sign a petition, or even dump some tea into the harbor, but make your grievances heard. There’s nothing more truly American than collective resistance, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.
  • 2. Register someone to vote: Voting rights are being restricted all over the country, and, if we don’t change the political tide, the kinds of grassroots, community-based voter registration and GOTV drives that have brought people newly into the democratic process for years may become illegal, or at least very impractical. Before it’s too late, print some registration forms for your state and grab some pens. I used to register hundreds of people during some 4th of July celebrations; people are ashamed to say no on this most patriotic of holidays!
  • 3. Help someone become a citizen: There are literally millions of people who would love the chance at what so many of us take for granted–our U.S. citizenship. And there are so many ways that you can help these aspiring Americans: donate to an organization that provides legal and other assistance to future citizens, write to your member of Congress demanding action on humane and workable immigration reform, help someone study for the English and civics exam required for citizenship, babysit while someone takes an English class. It’s truly an awesome thing that so many people long to be part of this great country, and their full participation can only make it greater.
  • 4. Discover your family’s own immigrant story: If your family came here from somewhere else, do you know that story? When I ask my students to trace this journey, they often discover surprises: someone whose arrival wasn’t quite “legal”, stories of discrimination endured and heartaches transcended, and inspiring tales of those who risked everything to start anew in a strange land, much as today’s new arrivals do. If you don’t know those stories, it’s worth exploring them.
  • 5. Make our democracy work better: I can’t imagine a system of governance more suited to human liberation than a democratic one, and, every day when I raise my voice, I’m very grateful for the right to do so. Still, our democracy could be stronger, and there’s much we can do to work in that direction. Today, in honor of those who gave so much to forge a new vision, how about making a donation to an organization working for campaign finance reform or government transparency? Or advocating reform of voting laws to expand suffrage rights? Or investing in organizations that do community organizing and find ways to engage people fully in the system that represents them?

    You don’t even have to ride a horse at midnight to make a difference. Although a little “the budget cuts are coming!” might not be a bad idea….

    Happy Independence Day!

    Use it!

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