Boston residents, organizers express mixed feelings over Independence Day holiday

For many Americans, the 4th of July is a time to celebrate national pride and the American ideals of freedom, justice, and equality. But for others, the day is yet another reminder of a promise that remains unfulfilled.

July 4 is viewed by many as the birth of the United States, when the Declaration of Independence was signed on the day, in 1776, declaring the American colonies’ revolution against colonial British rule. At the time of the signing, enslavement was a largely accepted part of society, and a large percentage of the American population—among them women, Indigenous peoples and those of low socioeconomic status—were stripped of basic civil rights. 

As marginalized communities are still barred from equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, July 4 arouses conflicting feelings in those who are critical of the country’s history and failure to properly address current issues. However, the holiday offers the opportunity to recommit to the American promise of liberty and justice for all and put patriotism to good use to affect change.

“It is the time of renewal. It is a second chance to get it right,” said acting mayor Kim Janey at the start of the city of Boston’s 254th Independence Day celebration. “And as we celebrate our nation’s birth, as we continue the work to perfect our union, I hope we don’t lose sight of the work that remains to truly make sure our nation is the land of the free and the home of the brave, for all of us.”

Revelers gathered in front of the Old State House for the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence recited the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo: Taylor Blackley)

As part of the city-wide celebrations on July 4, a crowd gathered in front of City Hall to honor the country and troops. Then, a short parade ended at the Old State House, where the yearly tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence from the balcony was observed. 

Beginning at around 10:45 that night, the annual fireworks show ignited the sky over the Boston Common, a departure from the regular venue over the Charles River.

July 4th celebrations, like the ones this year in Boston and beyond, tend to be synonymous with paying tribute to those who serve the country in the armed forces and veterans. 

For Thomas “OG” Harrison, who showed up early at City Hall for the celebration, the day is a source of pride. 

“It’s the best holiday for me, because I’m a vet and it represents the vets,” said Harrison. However, he also sees areas where the country needs to improve. 

Harrison, who served in the Army from 1977 to 1994, is currently experiencing homelessness and stays at the New England Center and Home for Veterans. He thinks that the U.S. could do a better job of taking care of its veterans and that freedom and democracy are not yet guaranteed for all.

“This is a country where everybody should be free. Right now, I consider myself a slave in that building because I’m not comfortable,” he said. 

85-year-old Tom Bleser, another veteran, was also in attendance at Boston’s Independence Day celebration. This year, he had strong opinions about the holiday.

“What we’ve come to realize this year is that both of these declarations (the Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution) were highly racist,” he said.

Bleser brought up the July 3rd standoff between state troopers and a group called “Rise of the Moors” and saw the incident as an example of Americans exercising their rights in a patriotic way.

“The fact that we now have a Black militia doing what we were doing in 1776, I think, is a real milestone in our history,” said Bleser. “If I was Black, I would be there with them and I will if they’ll take me, but they’re very much part of the fact we’ve come a long way since the first 4th of July.”

Despite the progress that has undoubtedly been made since the days of the founding fathers, many Americans are still fighting to achieve what they consider a truly equal and just society.

“It can’t just be freedom for a few It has to be freedom for all,” said Jeremy Chandler, the director of operations for the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts.

The event host, Jeremy Chandler, introduced each speaker at the We are Boston Rally on Monday, July 5, 2021 on Boston Common (Photo: Taylor Blackley)

Chandler organized a “We are Boston” rally at Liberty Mall on the afternoon of July 5. According to the event Facebook page, it was organized “to stand up and speak out against Boston’s legacy of white supremacy, misrepresentation of Boston’s many communities in city council and other political institutions.”

Hosting the rally on July 5 draws on a history of using the day after the nationally designated Independence Day as an alternative day to honor the U.S .through protest.

“We feel like it’s really important to host this right after Independence Day, because while some of us are free…within my community, where I grew up–Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury we’re not,” Chandler told The Scope. “We are under the boot, basically.”

Domingos DaRosa, a community organizer who is running for an at-large seat on the Boston city council, spoke at the rally. He hopes to change the status quo by adding his own voice to the city council. In the meantime, he hopes to bring people’s attention to the inequalities he sees in the city. 

“When you walk by another human being while they’re laying on the ground, and you can walk by them and never look down, where is the patriotism in that?” said DaRosa in response to the nationalistic celebrations of the day before. “Regardless if he’s a vet or not.”

He said that the government is not serving the needs of the people and that it is not a truly representative system.

“We don’t include all the people. It’s the elite. Just like when they wrote the Constitution, it was the elite that was in the room,” said DaRosa.

Those at the rally championed a list of demands that reflected their discontent with the present status of Boston’s government.

The first demand regarded the city’s treatment of its population experiencing homelessness and addiction. Dawn Holbert spoke as a representative from Another Chance Inc., a local organization focused on helping women who are battling addiction or homelessness—or both—many of whom are also survivors of sexual assault. She shared her experience of neglect and mistreatment of vulnerable populations by the municipal government in the “Methadone Mile” area near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. 

The protesters also demanded more police accountability and an end to qualified immunity. They asked for justice for Brenda James, Mikayla Miller, and Moses Harris, alleged victims of police violence and misconduct.

“Right now, as it stands in the state of Massachusetts, hairdressers have to have more training than cops do,” Chandler said.

“We Are Boston” rally attendees clapped and cheered to show their support to speakers. (Photo: Taylor Blackley)

He cited this as another example of government policies that have a negative effect on citizens, disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities. 

“What it takes to own a business, start-up anything, start up any way to create generational wealth for your family, you’re constantly restricted by licenses, over regulations, permits,” said Chandler. Another demand was to limit the need for occupational licenses and other business-related permits.

The group joined voices with the New Democracy Coalition in advocating for changing the name of Faneuil Hall, which was named for Peter Faneuil, an enslaver and human trafficker. The historic building was right next to a former trading post, and was built with wealth generated through the slave trade. For proponents of the change, keeping the name symbolizes a failure to acknowledge a local legacy rooted in racism. 

“When we talk about renaming Fanuiel Hall, we’re really talking about how is Boston addressing its own legacy of slavery,” said Chandler. “How is it doing that introspective work needed to progress as a city for everybody better?”

At the same time, Chandler said that the event was a call out for organizations that say they are working to create change, but have little results to show, while at the same time taking a condescending view of and excluding the communities they claim to help.

“You cannot sit here and bar us from the work because the work needs to be done in our communities. We need to be working together to address our own issues,” he said. 

Chandler and other activists at the rally hoped for more community engagement all around when it comes to social and economic oppression that occurs on a daily basis.

“It all starts from the heart. As long as you got love for your community, love for where you live, that’s where it starts,” Chandler said. 


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