This week, the US celebrates Independence Day on July 4th. The messages we hear about freedom are in stark contrast with the recent Supreme Court ruling that limits a pregnant person’s right to bodily autonomy, anti-transgender legislation that restricts access to gender-affirming care, and a continued culture of racism and hate-motivated violence.
Trans survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence may feel the added sting of the Supreme Court ruling, adding layers of new fears, concerns, and barriers to accessing necessary post-assault care. Some states are even using the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe to determine that basic, necessarily, trans-affirming care is now deemed illegal in their states.
Some activists have called for a boycott on Fourth of July celebrations, stating that “We are not in a place of progress or celebration when human rights are being taken away.” While this call to action comes at a point of widespread human rights violations, the argument for boycotting July 4th is not new.
In 2020, an educator and researcher named Dana P. Saxon wrote an article outlining nine reasons why they do not celebrate the Fourth of July. These reasons center around America’s history of racism and exploitation of Black people. For example, Saxon writes about the “Three Fifths Compromise,” a 1787 decision that “an enslaved person would count as three-fifths of a person.” At a New York event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.”
Many Indigenous people in America do not view Independence Day as a time for celebration. For Indigenous people, the “Declaration [of Independence] was a green light initiating a war of genocide against the Indigenous nations of this land.” The premise of Independence Day raises questions about who is actually free in America. Indigenous rights advocate Daisee Francour says, “Freedom cannot exist on stolen land.”
It is difficult to reconcile the celebration of freedom with the continued legacy of genocide and slavery in the United States. “When the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, slavery was formally abolished throughout the United States — ‘except as punishment for crime.’” Even today, incarcerated people, who are disproportionately people of color, are paid “nominal wages (in the range of cents per hour) for their work,” or are not paid for their labor at all. Calvin Duncan, who was freed in 2011 after more than 28 years of wrongful imprisonment, said, “The 13th Amendment didn’t end slavery for people like me.”
With these factors in mind, the overturning of Roe v. Wade may be an event that pushes people to reconsider their celebration of the Fourth of July. Some people have decided to “celebrate” in different ways this year:
“Across the country, fueled by social media, a call for those who disagree with the Supreme Court to raise their American flags upside down. According to the U.S. Flag Code, flying the American flag inverted is legal, as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”
While many of us may change our plans for the Fourth of July this year, it’s important to understand the history and context for Independence Day boycotts that have been led by Black and Indigenous people in America since the holiday was founded.
This Fourth of July, we can reflect on poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou’s words:
“The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.”