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Independence Day for Everyone

July 6, 2009

by Cynthia Boaz
huffingtonpost.com - July 3, 2009

I remember as a child that whenever the 4th of July rolled around, I would
try earnestly to reflect on the significance of the holiday. That is not an
easy task for a person submerged in the fanfare of commercialism and the
somewhat superficial patriotism of flags and fireworks. I always understood
that I was supposed to be grateful for something; that we were celebrating a
day of great importance to the lifestyle I was privileged to live. And I
tried my best to somberly but enthusiastically show the appropriate
reverence. Although I later came to know well the history behind the
holiday, the cultural expressions of it still left me feeling somewhat
empty. Which is not to say that I don't usually enjoy my 4th of July
celebrations- I do, especially since we turned the day into an annual family
reunion about 20 years ago.

But it seems to me that there is often something missing amongst the
cookouts, beers, and fireworks. I find it honorable that so many communities
take the day to remembers fallen soldiers and express thanks to those
currently serving. And yes, patriotism does have something to do with being
grateful for what we have as Americans and with knowing that our liberties
came at a cost.

What about those living without their freedom? What about the millions of
people around the world suffering under severe repression, deprivation, and
a lack of the most basic dignities? It seems to me that in order to honor
the holiday we call "Independence Day," in the United States, it is our
obligation to reflect upon how we might use our liberties to help those
seeking theirs. In dozens of countries around the world- places such as
Iran, Burma, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Egypt, Vietnam, Pakistan, Palestine,
Belarus, and Tibet- there are vast numbers of people who daily risk their
lives in the struggle for the same freedom and civil liberties that many of
us take for granted, even on the day most sacred to our own history of
independence from arbitrary rule.

Perhaps it is time to redefine what the terms patriotism and citizenship
really mean in the post-post-Cold War world. President Obama assisted this
effort enormously when he spoke directly to tyrants who would "cling to
power [by] silencing dissent" and that "we will hold out a hand if you will
unclench your fist." In those few words, he acknowledged that the United
States and its citizens can no longer ignore the interests of peoples around
the world, and that if we are to survive, we must find a way to work
together; to locate and capitalize on our mutual interests as human beings
first, and citizens of an increasingly-interconnected world second.

What a contrast to the black-and-white worldview of President Obama's
predecessor who told the world "Either you're with us, or you're with the
terrorists." There was no gray area in that version of reality- no room for
discussion, no opening in which to examine our common humanity. It is not a
coincidence that in the past eight years, our progress as a people has been
eclipsed by the exploitation of our own prejudices, greed, and fear. And
this stunted evolution goes beyond reckless foreign policy. For nearly a
decade, the United States has lagged behind the rest of the industrialized
democratic world on issues as diverse as health care, environmental
protection, stem cell research, and gay rights.

It is necessary to reconsider the notions of patriotism and citizenship not
just because it is the sane, humane thing to do, but because states
themselves are becoming increasingly irrelevant on the global stage. Power
is increasingly found in transnational actors- from multinational
corporations to international organizations- and sub-state actors- from
democracy movements in places like Iran and Burma to vibrant civic
organizations in the developed democracies.

I see it as our job as patriotic Americans to encourage the only natural
result of these shifts in power--to promote more global justice through the
mechanisms of liberty. In the next decade, there should be no place in the
world- including the United States- where people occasionally find
themselves having to choose between being a good citizen and being a good
human being.

We have an opportunity today- on our own independence day- to recognize that
our patriotic obligations extend beyond our own borders, and that our
political, economic, and spiritual development is intricately tied up in the
corresponding development of others. We must finally acknowledge as a people
that our right to exercise the liberties with which we are gifted comes with
a corresponding obligation to help promote those same liberties for others
yet to obtain them. If we fail to come to that understanding, the freedom
that we celebrate every July 4th is wasted.
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