Wed, Jun

And the Rockets’ Red Glare: BBQs, Fireworks and Speeches

4TH OF JULY CELEBRATIONS - By comparison this Independence was not unusual. There were the same ceremonies and flag waving. The same slightly routine versions of the national anthem that leave out the second, third and fourth verses that no one memorizes. Of particular issue is this part “Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The barbeques were lit, and the fireworks abound in every neighborhood across this city. From the perch overlooking both the city and the bay it was like a torrent of gunpowder that lasted for hours, and the haze of the smoke hung in the air like a smog on the city afterwards. The inability of the police to even enforce the ill legal fireworks only reveals that IF at any given moment just one percent of the population decides to break the law there’s never enough cops to stop it, despite their best efforts and warnings.

On the way back from the “official” fireworks show at Cabrillo Beach, in San Pedro we had to take several detours as multiple intersections in residential neighborhoods were commandeered for the local blast frenzy which in my neighborhood lasted well past midnight with mortar rounds and skyrockets setting off car alarms. The only advice is to keep animals inside and watch out for LA’s iconic palm trees from catching fire.  The South Coast Air Quality Management district that monitors the air quality for the seven counties of Southern California announced, “Fireworks are known to emit large amounts of particulate matter (PM) which can contribute to negative health effects. With so many fireworks going off at once, July 4 and 5 consistently have some of the worst air quality of the year in the South Coast Air Basin (Basin).”

It's easy to see that in the coming years the drone light displays will probably become more prevalent as the fireworks pose environmental health hazards to both air and water. This would be a major cultural shift in our patriotic tradition that probably won’t sit well down in Orange County at Huntington Beach where MAGA patriots will inevitably turn this into another culture war.

What did stand out this year was the speech that State Sen. Steven Bradford gave at the Korean Bell ringing. He connected the just recent Juneteenth celebrations with July 4th, indicating that 247 years ago the founding fathers would not have recognized this very diverse crowd but that the promise of “all men are created equal” has dramatically expanded in the interceding years.

His words were both forceful and sincerely honest. Words that only a termed-out politician can speak without pausing to assess how it would impact his electability the following election cycle. If only other leaders would speak with such conviction and conscience ― we would all be better off.

What also stood out as unique in the same ceremony, amidst many of the same kinds of speeches that put audiences into comforting patriotic comatose, was the Korean traditional dance by Jiho Lee. She is a lifelong performer of the Buchaechum that is one of the most popular traditional dances in Korea performed by a group of female dancers wearing Hanbok, a Korean traditional dress. The dancers create natural shapes of flowers, butterflies and waves. Dancing as she did on the granite platform of the multicolored bell with the slight wind blowing through her robes did give the illusion of waves coming in from across the Pacific Ocean at Point Fermin.

It was stunning in its visual communication of movement with grace, no words were needed.

So here we are on Independence Day on the cusp of our nation’s 250th anniversary, we’re wondering if this republic will stand and survive against the same enemies that have historically taken down democracies – autocratic populism  in the form of the bully strongman who exclaims, “Only I can fix this!” From ancient Athens to the Roman republic to the fascists’ takeovers in Germany, Italy and Spain the frailty of democracy is the weakness of people to collectively stand up against authoritarianism, it comes in many faces.

I remember growing up and wondering how it was that the German people allowed for the rise of Hitler and fascism. And yet now we understand that it will come to America “wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.” So, the unanswered question this Independence Day is how we take back those symbols of patriotism from those who would destroy our democracy by using them against the very ideals that we believe in? And even more, what exactly does life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean in a nation that can’t house the homeless, care for the needy and provide for the general welfare of its people?

After all the smoke has cleared, the debris of the fireworks cleaned from the streets and people recover from their hangovers what does it mean to live and defend a democratic republic in the year 2023? It’s something to think about on your way to work, driving past striking hotel workers and homeless encampments.   

(For over four decades James Preston Allen has been a guiding progressive political force in the greater Los Angeles Harbor community focusing his keen editorial eye on a multitude of issues both local and regional.  As one of the early supporters of Neighborhood Councils Mr. Allen championed this cause in his editorials, nurtured public support for them and fought for charter reform. Publisher of Random Lengths News where this article was first published.)