Re-evaluating Independence Day

Waking up yesterday morning at 6am – what my wife calls “the ass-crack of dawn” and what I call “a week-day” – to head out to Danville to walk a mile in a parade was pretty much the last way I wanted to spend a precious day off. In the end, it made me fall in love with the 4th of July all over again.

Shoulder cramps be damned, I kept my death grip on Ol’ Glory the whole route.

Danielle is one of the youngest members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, whose membership must be able to prove that they descended from a revolutionary solider in order to join. Since discovering her heritage, my wife’s American pride has shot up by a divide-by-zero error. A wardrobe once marked solely by various shades of blue has rapidly also allowed in reds and whites, typically in the form of stripes.

This year, the organization was tasked with carrying the local veterans association’s garrison flag in the Danville Independence Day Parade. Danielle had no idea what a garrison flag was, but she knew she needed bodies to carry it and that I was going to be one of them.

When we arrived at staging area M, we were surrounded by soldiers present and past, all of them dressed in their parade best and bearing flags of various shapes and sizes. July 4th has always carried a jingoist, “America – Fuck Yeah!” kind of connotation in my mind, especially since 9/11. It’s not that I’m anti-American by any means – I consider myself lucky to have been born in a nation that provides so many opportunities – but I grow weary of the kind of self-congratulatory back-slapping that goes with any kind of nationalistic or prideful display.

It turns out the garrison flag is this enormous version of Old Glory that takes about 20 people to carry without dragging it on the ground. It’s the biggest flag in the entire parade and always gets a big, excited reception from the crowd when it goes by. I walked front left, gripping the flag in my right hand and waving to the adoring crowds with my left (side note: I need to spend more time in front of adoring crowds – big ego boost!).

Indoctrinating the boy while he’s young.

I saw first hand the reaction the flag got from everyone we passed, young and old. The number of people who clearly immigrated here who stood and clapped or raised their hands to their hearts was inspiring. I heard “Great job, guys!” from tons of folks along the parade route, as if what we were doing – basically just walking and carrying the biggest patriotic bed sheet you have ever seen – was some kind of work.

But, really, I think I get it. It’s hard not to swell with nationalistic pride when the symbol of your home – whether your birth home or the one you adopted – goes by. A flag this size is overwhelming. We were hearing “Great job!” because we were carrying a symbol that’s highly cherished by so many people. It’s a loaded symbol, to be sure, but, for one day at least, we get to celebrate it for what it should mean – freedom, opportunity and hope.

Maybe it’s because I walked in the parade and got to help carry a huge American flag, which was a huge honor, even if it was only granted to me because they needed one more able body. But this is the first Independence day in years – decades, even – that I really felt was more than an excuse to take off work and cook up some meat. Looking through the pictures of the parade this morning, I see that pride and hope in so many faces, and it makes me proud. I’m sure our politicians will do or say something stupid later today that makes me question the direction of this nation. I’m sure I’ll be reminded at some point of how our imperialistic attitude has negatively impacted some other poor country (I work in SF – it’s really inevitable). But, for one bright, beautiful day, I was a part of something that made me remember what makes this country great. I’m hoping I get the honor to do it again next year. It’s good to be reminded of these things once in a while.

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