On July Fourth, the 243rd birthday of our nation’s independence from Great Britain, many Americans found themselves questioning the rationale for President Donald Trump’s decision to turn the traditional Independence Day celebration in Washington into a militaristic extravaganza, including 40-ton Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and starring Trump himself as the emcee-in-chief — a spectacle fit for a king.
Thankfully, for decades, the city of Philadelphia has known how to celebrate Independence Day. Over the years, residents and visitors alike have reveled in the true meaning of the holiday without the need for any one person to occupy a symbolic throne.
As a member of the City of Philadelphia’s July Fourth event planning team for many years, I have helped create and implement countless parades, concerts, fireworks, and community festivals and there was always one thing that rang true: The birthplace of America knows how to throw a party. And as any experienced event planner will tell you, customizing the details to the occasion and to your audience, is critical for the event to be a success.
It was foolhardy for President Trump to have attempted to eclipse the spirit of Independence Day by turning the day into a self-aggrandizing show of military might. Our strong military should be celebrated each and every day (and especially on designated holidays such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day). But it was wrong of President Trump to ask those who defend our nation to relinquish their July Fourth holiday by taking them away from their families to appease his whims and spending $27 million of taxpayer money for added security and for transportation of military vehicles to fragile Washington streets.
The president’s decision about how to celebrate July Fourth doesn’t reflect the true meaning and spirit of Independence Day.
But here’s what does: When the very first Liberty Medal was created in 1987 after the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution celebration in Philadelphia, it was presented in front of Independence Hall on July Fourth. Thousands of people stood in the sweltering July heat, waving American flags, to watch world leaders including President Jimmy Carter, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk, Hamid Karzai, and others accept an award recognizing their fight for freedom. A dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence was delivered that inspired the public to cherish the freedoms we Americans enjoy today. Fife and drum corps, patriotic music, and colorful banners added to among the best Fourth of July celebrations in the nation. One of the most meaningful aspects of the event was knowing that in this historic building the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were forged and ratified. This is how history comes alive.
Over the years that celebration has morphed into a multiday festival called Wawa Welcome America. Despite many events being added, and new mayors presiding over the celebration, Philadelphia has never lost sight of the meaning of Independence Day, and its central theme of celebrating America’s birthday in America’s birthplace. The concerts and fireworks became more spectacular and the community events became more inclusive. It has remained a day for the people to honor the moment in time 243 years ago when America became truly independent.
To understand and cherish that independence doesn’t require showcasing our military might with massive tanks or planes — leave those for another day — but rather, remembering the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the words: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal …
Thank you, Philly, for preserving Independence Day’s meaning and for not inviting partisan politics and the monarchy to the party.