While the coronavirus forced the cancellation of most parades, municipal fireworks displays, and other typical July Fourth activities, the American tradition of protest was on full display Saturday in the city where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
Transgender rights activists marched in front of the Liberty Bell, speaking out against discrimination. A group called Red Fists Rising gathered at 30th Street Station, denouncing the use of force by police. A “Protest Police Terror” rally took over the street in front of the Municipal Services Building, with organizers broadcasting a phone call from Mumia Abu-Jamal — the man convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
A handful of more typical July Fourth traditions took place here and there, including one with an inclusive new twist. For the first time, the annual tapping of the Liberty Bell was livestreamed, and watchers were invited to tap their own drinking glasses, bells, or kitchen pots in unison early in the afternoon. A far louder noise tore through the skies a few hours later, when the Thunderbirds and other military jets flew over Center City on their way to Baltimore and Washington.
While many Philadelphians headed to the Shore for sun and sand, protest was on the agenda there, too, as seven Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested after blocking the Atlantic City Expressway.
The organizers of the Liberty Bell tapping acknowledged that the holiday was recognized in a variety of ways, saying they hoped their ceremony would represent a show of unity.
“In the recent weeks, with the pandemic and rightful indignation of racial and religious inequalities, everyone is in need of demonstrating a positive way to proclaim the rights and freedoms represented by the Liberty Bell,” said Ben Wolf, president of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of Revolution, calling the tapping “a show of solidarity for everyone’s liberties.”
The famous bronze bell also got a virtual counterpart on Saturday, when an “augmented reality” Liberty Bell went live above the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Viewers must download an app called 4th Wall to see the red, white, and blue spectacle hovering in the air.
As for the protests, the Red Fists Rising group got underway close to noon. Group members raised their red-painted fists for nine minutes, symbolizing the amount of time that a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him in May.
Organizer Ash’Raka Juel led the group on a march to join other demonstrations in Center City.
”This world must be respected by everybody,” he said. “We’re not here for defense, we’re here for offense. We’re not waiting for white supremacists to attack, we’re trying to push them out.”
In the middle of Chestnut Street near Independence Hall, trans rights activist Alonda Talley told protesters that the community has to be united, because if anyone is being persecuted, everyone is. Marchers held signs naming trans men and women who have died recently, many of whom Talley said she knew. She called for activism to continue past Saturday.
“Do not go back to your daily routine,” she said. “Rise up, stand up, do something.”
Talley and other speakers said the violence against Black people, including Black trans people, isn’t limited to murder and physical violence: It manifests as discrimination in housing, at the workplace, and in other scenarios.
At the Municipal Services Building, the Protest Police Terror rally got a boost from a man whom demonstrators said should be freed from prison: Mumia Abu-Jamal. Speaking on a call from the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy that was played over a megaphone, Abu-Jamal said he stood with the protesters and appreciated their support.
“This is a special time,” said Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence in the killing of Faulkner. “A time like someone my age hasn’t seen in many years. But it’s a time that’s finally here, and that means it’s the right time.”
Pam Africa, of the activist group MOVE, called not only for the release of Abu-Jamal, but for reform of the city’s Police Department. Members of MOVE held a sarcastic “eulogy” for the Frank Rizzo statue, which the city recently removed from the site of the protest.
In Atlantic City, the “Show Up or Shut Up” rally and march started at around 1 p.m. with a dozen people holding signs and chanting “Black Lives Matter” outside the city’s public safety building on Atlantic Avenue.
Protest leader Steve Young spoke to the growing crowd, and called on city officials to allocate more casino revenue to help rebuild the city’s impoverished areas. He then led a march through the streets and led chants of “No justice, no peace,” and “Say it loud, I’m Black and proud.”
The protest ended near the Exit 2 off-ramp of the Atlantic City Expressway, where police arrested Young and six other men.
Staff writers Becky Batcha, Ellen Gray, and Hadriana Lowenkron contributed to this article.