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This 4th: “It is not light that is needed, but fire”

It’s Independence Day, that time of year when Americans, whether citizens or new Americans, celebrate the country’s revolutionary founding as the world’s first democratic republic, its history, and its future. This year, however, perhaps more than any in recent memory, the fireworks and cookouts and celebratory trips to the beach (for those of us not coastally challenged) seem to ring hollow. The celebrations don’t seem to fit our current, dangerous national reality. Celebration feels like a way of taking our collective minds off of what’s becoming of our beautiful land between two shining seas.

The fascist, anti-American threat

Over the past year and a half, Americans – the most progressive of whom have always realized that the nation isn’t perfect, but who celebrated its continued forward movement – have started to become accustomed to seeing things most thought “could never happen here.” Our immigration policy has been a nightmare for decades, but who in 2015 would have ever imagined that we would have seen children torn from their parents’ arms at the border, only to be sent to a concentration camp set up at an abandoned Walmart? Systemic racism has always been an issue, but it seemed that we were making progress. Who could have imagined, even in 2015, that we would have seen the return of the evil Ku Klux Klan and other associated groups – supportive of and supported by a president who claims that there were “good people” on both sides of the Civil War?

Who would have expected that American soldiers would see the disrespect that the Trump regime has shown them? And who would have expected that a sizable portion of the American population would agree to it? Who would have thought we’d see an American president adulate the right-wing North Korean dictatorship, and openly wish the U.S. were more like it?

Who would have expected that one of the two main parties, now subordinate to Trump, would have supported a pedophile banned from his local mall because he scared teen girls, Roy Moore, in his bid for one of Alabama’s seats in the Senate? Who would have imagined that open fascists, people who support the Confederacy and deny the Holocaust, would be running for office as the official Republican nominee, as Arthur Jones is in the 3rd Congressional District in Illinois?

Who would have thought that a large section of the American people would have morphed into a fascistic, anti-American bloc, eager to support anything the president proposes, regardless of how it fits in with basic democratic norms?

All of these things and more add up to a bad, dangerous state of affairs for America. An anti-American fascist movement has taken hold of the Republican Party, and Trump seems to be inching closer and closer to some sort of open, terrorist rule. The republic itself hasn’t been in so much peril – peril generated internally – in decades, perhaps since the 1860s.

Our history: Zig-zagging, but in a progressive direction

Still, though, there is reason for celebrating Independence Day, perhaps, paradoxically, more so than at any time in recent decades. What is the 4th of July, at its root? Despite decades of complacency, the holiday has never really been about, merely looking around and thinking of how great everything is, of singing insipid songs about how pretty the land is. Instead, it’s a holiday borne of revolution, which America periodically goes through. It marks the anniversary of the declaration that Americans would fight to free themselves of foreign rule.

Indeed, this date also marks a less well known, but just as important, revolutionary anniversary: July 4, 1863, a major turning point for the Union Army in the Civil War. While the Revolution was a monumental step forward towards the still unreached goal of human freedom, the new republic was stained by many blemishes, most especially the sin of slavery. The Civil War was either the culmination of 1776, or a second American revolution. However one looks at it, this blood-drenched but necessary war moved America firmly towards becoming a truly democratic republic.

By 1876, 100 years after the Declaration, Lincoln had been killed, and the final nail was put into the coffin of Reconstruction by a president who lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College (sound familiar?), The federal government moved to make amends with the former slaveholders, instead of crushing them resolutely, as they shold have, and forcing a democratic, anti-racist South, a choice that still haunts us to this day. The KKK and lynchings and racial terror continued, until the Civil Rights Revolution, culminating only in the 1960s, took place, again forcing America forward.

Back and forth America has gone over the years, but the general trend has been forward. The darkest days of reaction have been followed by dramatic, revolutionary changes that moved the country far ahead of where it had been before the reaction. But every single time, it required a fight, sometimes bloody, sometimes not.

Frederick Douglass on this holiday

In 1852, during the days of slavery, Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest of Americans, discussed the meaning of the current holiday. He noted the “sad sense of disparity between us,” white and black Americans, many of whom owned many of the latter. He continued, using language that might describe now the feelings of many, especially those held in the new American concentration camps, “What, to the American slave [to the mother held, torn from her child, at the border? –DM], is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Douglass, though, never gave up. Instead, while concluding his speech, he told his audience, “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.”

And such is the case now: there are forces at play that can work the downfall of Trumpism.

People rising against Trump

Just a few days ago, across the country, thousands upon thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to the tearing apart of families. Millions have acted, many for the first time, to protest Muslim bans, anti-immigrant hysteria, shockingly racist violence, and more. Some even gave their lives, as in Charlottesville.

And it’s not just protest; we’re winning battles for power. For the first time in history, a progressive, socialist, Latina will represent New York’s 14th Congressional District, covering parts of Queens and the Bronx. In Pennsylvania in May, progressives and socialists won a huge victory. The previously-mentioned pedophile Roy Moore was defeated in 2017 by the civil rights lawyer Doug Jones, turning Alabama politics upside down.

America isn’t doomed; progress isn’t doomed. Instead, while the country is in peril, we also have the opportunity to move forward, to mobilize in the fight against racism, against sexism, against the exploitation of working people, against xenophobia – against Trumpism – and to win our democracy back, on a higher level than it’s ever yet existed. That’s what we should be celebrating now.

Learn from the past

But we shouldn’t just be celebrating: we should be studying history and taking lessons from it, as well as the recent victories. Ocasio-Cortez and Conor Lamb, who was recently elected to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th District, for example, are two extremely different candidates. Lamb is certainly not a socialist like Ocasio, and is, many have argued, from the more conservative section of the Democratic Party. These anti-Trump victors are similar, though: both reflect the most progressive coalition possible in their districts: Lamb’s area had been represented by a Republican for 17 years prior, and had also produced Rick Santorum. They also ran excellent ground operations in their elections. 

Like Douglass discovered, building a coalition that can win is far more important work than only championing the most progressive candidate that can be found. As I’ve argued, aside from Russian interference, Comey torpedoing Hillary’s campaign, and other such things, a big reason that Trump won was due to the pernicious disunity between the left and center forces. Cursing “corporate Democrats” isn’t a winning strategy, and will only help to create the disunity that would allow for Trump to maintain a subservient Republican Congress. Indeed, were some on the left, working on a poor strategy, more powerful, it is likely that they could have caused enough disillusionment with Lamb that the Republican could have won.

Celebrate, then do the work America needs

It’s worth taking the time to celebrate, and not only as a way to distract ourselves from the dangerous Trump administration. We should celebrate the progressive victories that have come, and that we hope will come again, that have always followed the darkest times in American history. And after the celebration, it’s time to get involved. The November elections are the main vehicle at this time to wrest power away from Trump, so see where you can get involved, and make some phone calls, knock on some doors, and try to change the balance of power.

Whatever work you do depends on where you are, but it’s all part of the same, anti-Trump, pro-democracy fight. If you’re in Massachusetts, you could be working on the fight to make sure nurses are treated fairly and patients safely, and for trans rights.

In the Worcester area, you can work to defend District Attorney Joe Early from a right-wing extremist disguised as an independent. You could work on Paul DePalo’s campaign for Governor’s Council to unseat the Gaffneyite Trump supporting tea party member Jen Caissie. You could help Katie Toomey’s campaign for Register of Deeds, to make sure that a countywide position doesn’t fall into the hands of the extreme right. A few towns over from Worcester, you could work to support the progressive Tom Merolli, running to unseat the most extreme Republican in the State Senate, Ryan Fattman.

Worcester and surrounding towns also need to make sure that friends of democracy like Rep. Jim McGovern, State Reps. Dan Donahue, Mary Keefe, Jim O’Day, and John Mahoney stay in office. In Leicester and part of Worcester, you could join the campaign to replace a Republican at the state representative level with a Democrat. In the primary, the progressives are David LeBoeuf, with backing from the nurses’ and teachers’ unions, as well as well as City Councilor Sarai Rivera; and Pam Gemme, backed by SEIU Local 509 and City Councilor Khyrystian King. Stu Loosemore is running as a centrist Democratic candidate. (see forthcoming article)

In other states, you might be close enough to a district where you can help to turn a red seat blue at the Congressional level, keeping in mind that the whole Republican Party has turned into the party of Trump, of anti-Americanism, while the Democrats have become or are beocming the party of 21st Century Americanism, especially recently, as more and more embrace the fight for African American and Latino rights, immigrant rights, pay equality, for women’s rights, and for all of the basic democratic freedoms we’ve long aspired to.

And let’s work hard. As Douglass said in his speech:

“It is not light that is needed, but fire.”

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