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How to Celebrate the 4th of July When America Is a Constant Disappointment

If you feel like patriotism is morally repulsive right now, you'd be correct.

How, Though? is a column devoted to helping you manage all the daunting complications of being alive.

America has always been bad, no matter who the president is or was. Since Trump’s election, however, the qualities that make America particularly bad—racism, sexism, homophobia, the institutionalized manifestations of each of these, et cetera—have been emboldened, forcing many people to reckon with the ugly reality of their beloved USA. “This is not America,” I keep hearing. But the truth of the matter is that family separation, a disregard for Black lives, homophobia, and every other incarnation of white male supremacy are exactly what America is made of. In light of that, celebrating the Fourth of July in the spirit of patriotism may sound far from appealing. Here are some alternative ways to celebrate the Fourth of July that include less blind nationalism and more uplifting communities that American institutions have so long worked against.

  • If you’re hosting a get-together, consider setting an intention for the function that finds something to celebrate about America that isn’t simple nationalism, possibly focusing a minority community you belong to. Invites could say something like, “I’m having a get-together to celebrate the resilience of [insert marginalized community] in America,” as one option.
  • As you shop for food and party supplies, try buying from businesses owned and operated by indigenous people or other communities who face systemic disadvantages in the US.
  • Consider asking for material or monetary donations from your guests for a cause that our government and/or other American institutions have abandoned or actively worked against, like the Flint, Michigan water crisis or abortion access.
  • Set up activities that are rooted in helping and/or honoring a person or community of your choice, like writing letters to children who’ve been separated from their parents at our border.
  • Hold a reading of poems and stories written by people who’ve suffered hardships due to American policies, customs, and/or agencies.
  • If you sense that you’ve been invited to a patriotic party where you’ll be expected to wear red, white, and blue—and all but make out with the American flag—feel free to ditch it and instead spend your time volunteering to help resettled refugees or fight for gun reform.
  • Bring or set up petitions at any functions you attend or throw, whether they be to get progressive voices on ballots, oppose a fracking proposal in your community, or protect DACA. You might get on people’s nerves if you’re shoving petitions in their faces while they’re trying to get drunk, but deporting kids who’ve never lived anywhere else should get on their nerves more!!
  • Small talk sucks. Ask fellow guests if they’re registered to vote, and tell them how to do that if they don’t know.
  • Reach out to your local mosque, Black Lives Matter chapter, or LGBTQ center to see if and how they can use your help organizing or celebrating this Fourth.
  • If you’re planning a get-together, look at your guest list. If it’s homogenous in race, gender, and/or sexuality, question why, and think about who else you can reach out to without tokenizing them.
  • Dishes aren’t fun, but take one for the environment and avoid paper and plastic waste. Climate change is real, even if the president begs to differ.
  • Support the free press, one of America’s actually good cultural institutions, and sign up for a news subscription (or two), like ProPublica, Jacobin, or your local paper this Fourth. Next Fourth, you can evaluate what you’ve learned from this source and opt into another year, or find a new outlet.
  • We know the real Fourth of July action goes down at night, so use a few minutes of your morning to call your state representatives and voice your concerns about any number of the never-ending decisions from hell this administration has thrown at us, be it the travel ban, discrimination against LGBTQ people, or violent anti-migrant policies—take your pick.

If the state of America seems dismal right now, it’s because it is—politically, at least. But America isn’t just the white men in power or the news that seems more and more dystopian by the day. It’s also the people hiding undocumented immigrants from ICE, the women risking arrest in order to fight for the reunification of families that our government tore apart, and the next 28-year-old Latinx congresswoman from the Bronx who just last November was still a bartender. If you’re having a hard time finding things to celebrate about America this Fourth of July, I suggest starting with them.