How To Celebrate the Fourth of July

There have been the usual moanings and groanings on and elsewhere about how the Fourth of July is no longer worth celebrating. Brad Edmonds’ essay, Why the 4th of July Is My Least Favorite Holiday, is typical. L. Neil Smith’s Happy What? is more bombastic, but along the same lines, and just as right on.

Most of these essays don’t tell us anything anyone who can can think for herself doesn’t already know: government is getting bigger and stupider, taxes are getting higher, and more and more Americans are brainless victims of government schools and other weapons of mass delusion. So: tell me something I don’t already know.

The question is, what can you do about it? Maybe not much, but you can do something, and have fun doing it.

I live in a town (population 3,000) in Wyoming. Well, you have to start somewhere. When our local theatre (OK, large screening room) owners decided to have a Fourth of July celebration, they planned the usual things: yelling contests (to train future legislators), radio controlled car races, a disk jockey, all prefatory to the fireworks display after twilight.

Then I had one of my usual subversive ideas, and my lady, Catherine, said, "Let’s do it!" The idea? What are we really celebrating here? What makes America unique? Flags? Naw. Fire crackers? Guess again. Television shows? Wash your mouth out with soap. Answer: the ideas set forth in The Declaration of Independence, as implemented in The Bill of Rights. So let’s make that point. Let’s read The Bill of Rights as part of the celebration.

With less than a week from the time the light bulb went on until the Fourth, we had to move fast. One advantage of living in a small town is that you know everyone. When I asked the theatre owners if we could do it, they were enthusiastic. They gave us a time slot, and put us on the program.

We arranged a PA system (courtesy of the local Chamber of Commerce), and called our list of potential speakers. (First lesson: Have brainstorms well in advance. Most of the folks we called had other plans.) I hauled in an authoritative copy of The Bill of Rights from the National Archives and printed out several copies in nice large type so that we could read them easily.

Come July Fourth, I got the PA system, and got it set up and running well in advance. After dinner, we helped the celebration organizers with their setup, and recruited some impromptu readers, like one of the theatre owners. Our readers included a local high school student, and an eighty-year-old woman. Catherine announced as well as read several of the Amendments. It was informal, impromptu, and a lot of fun.

We were surprised and pleased at the response. People applauded and came up to us afterwards with congratulations. Some folks, like a member of the local Daughters of the American Revolution, told us they wished we had called on them. That was the first I knew we even had a DAR chapter.

We apparently hit on some groundswell of feeling. One attorney, who had obligations elsewhere, mentioned John Ashcroft as a specific reason he would have liked to have participated. Our sheriff said if we do it again, he would like to read the Second. One of the audience wrote a letter to the editor thanking the celebration organizers.

It’s inexpensive, it’s fun, it isn’t fattening and it’s easy. And you don’t have to wait until next July to do it. There’s Constitution Day, September 17. And Bill of Rights Day, December 15, would be singularly appropriate. Put it on the agenda at your local service club or veterans group. Do it at your Toastmasters International club.

Go, thou, and do likewise. While it’s still legal.

July 19, 2003