July 4, 2020: How Do We Move Forward?

Growing up, July 4th weekend meant that we packed up the family station wagon and headed north to my grandparents’ for a weekend of family activities to celebrate America’s birthday: parades, cookouts, and campfires under an illuminated sky. These are some of my earliest memories, and the moments that my husband and I have sought to recreate with our children.

But in planning for the Fourth this year, many of our traditions have been upended. Parades have been canceled. Many family members cannot travel. Older relatives need to limit social contact. And many are hurting, reckoning with the pain of prolonged injustice and inaction, adjusting to life during a global health crisis, and feeling a sense of urgency to ask family members, friends, and ourselves the tough questions: How did we get here? How can we be better? How do we move forward?

Perhaps the cancellations and unplanned quiet enforced by the pandemic provide an opportunity for reflection, to grapple with these serious questions, to think about what truly matters as we are forced to celebrate America’s birthday differently — in relative stillness — undistracted by the usual fanfare.

We’ve celebrated this holiday against the backdrop of war, civil unrest, economic turmoil, and collective fear for the future of our democracy before. I remember passing convoys of soldiers from the local army base preparing to deploy to Vietnam while driving to my grandparents one summer. I remember gathering around our television set in the summer of ‘74 during the Nixon impeachment hearings.

Even as those historic events unfolded, we lined the streets of our communities, proudly wearing our red, white, and blue. Too often, we’ve been more focused on the celebration than the fact that each of these colors represent the ideals that we, as people who proudly call this country home, should not only honor but expect of one another.

Red, for courage and sacrifice; White, for pure intentions and high ideals; Blue, for vigilance and justice. We the people are responsible for the healing of our country — we the people are gatekeepers of our republic. We the people are responsible for keeping the promise of forming an ever more perfect union.

This moment demands that we rise to the charge and challenge of our uniquely American creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. We must have the courage to speak up for those whose voices have too often been silenced. Our shared sacrifices during this pandemic have, and will, continue to save lives. We must demand that our leaders serve us with an eye to the public good, not personal gain; that they lead to unite us, not divide us. We must remain vigilant in the ongoing fight for the full equality and justice for all Americans: a truth that has yet to fully become self-evident.

We have a lot of work ahead of us — work that we can, and must, do together.

As we gather with those close to us this holiday weekend, we can all pause to say a moment of thanks — thanks for the liberties we enjoy, the essential workers who keep us safe, and the communities and families that support all of us. Have a safe and happy Fourth.


Mary Gay Scanlon currently serves a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.

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Mary Gay Scanlon

Mary Gay Scanlon currently serves a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.