While most of us were barbecuing, drinking beer and setting off illegal fireworks on July Fourth, a few hundred young people in Sacramento were outside exercising their right to protest.
These protesters shut down Interstate 5 near the capitol; angry at the Supreme Court over the destruction of national reproductive rights, angry at the rapid rise of fascism in American institutions of power, and angry at the lies we were sold by two political parties that have more in common with each other than they do with the people they are supposed to represent.
The protest was shared live on social media by Black Zebra Productions, and the images they broadcast were powerful and familiar: A shredded American flag held aloft, a young woman waving a hanger, fists of protest raised in power, fists of enforcement wrapped around metal batons.
Had I been in one of the cars on the freeway at the time, I would have joined the protesters. In fact, many cars did, blaring their horns in support from both sides of the roadway, to the cheers of the crowd. I watched, live, as at least one car did not move — even when instructed to by police — putting their own property and safety on the line to protect the protesters from advancing law enforcement.
I truly cannot think of anything more patriotic.
At one point, a CHP officer who was first to the scene, paused his eardrum-deafening siren only to announce via loudspeaker: “You live in California. You can do what you want.” The officer was likely referring to reproductive rights that are still protected in California — for now — but are denied in 22 states and counting. What a stunning display of ignorance from someone who was actively trying to stop Americans from doing what they wanted.
This unrest is about so much more than what is legal in one state or illegal in another. It’s about how injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere — something the United States prides itself on protecting. To tell Californians, “You’re safe, so sit down” is an insult to all Americans.
These streets are our streets, whether it’s the Fourth of July or any other day on the calendar. Local law enforcement should have been out there protecting Americans’ right to protest, not attempting to clear the roadway of a half-hour’s inconvenience.
Americans did not win their independence by staying at home and listening to the authorities.
Our founding fathers and mothers did not fight and die for us to be ruled 246 years later by a gilded neo-aristocracy, hellbent on protecting the rights of businesses and billionaires over the rights of individuals. We were not founded as a Christian nation, to protect the word of the Christian God at all costs; we are here to protect personal liberty, freedom, expression and the pursuit of happiness.
Who among us is happy with the state of our nation?
This is a generation plagued by war, recession, institutionalized racism and misogyny, that is enduring the rapid removal of rights previous generations once held sacred. I believe these protesters hold much more in common with American revolutionaries than anyone setting off fireworks. They deserve our thanks and gratitude on this day of all days — when we celebrate the dream of what America could be.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” said Benjamin Franklin.
“It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men,” said Sam Adams.
And from Thomas Paine, America’s original instigator of unrest against rabid authority: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must … undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
I ask you now, did you celebrate this year’s anniversary of American independence by supporting it, or did you sit back and reap the blessings while others set the brushfires of freedom?