We Are Not 'The Land Of The Free,' But We Are 'The Home Of The Brave'

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Why We Will Celebrate the Fourth of July (Even Though We Are Not That Proud Right Now)
Katie Cloyd/Instagram

This day has always felt special to me. My grandfather served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. My father, aunt and uncle served in the Air Force when I was a kid. We always spent the Fourth of July at our town’s Independence Day celebration. My mother would sing a selection of patriotic songs to a packed crowd. I have many memories of sitting on my Dad’s shoulders, listening to my mother’s voice ringing out a proud, “God Bless America,” while fireworks lit up the night sky.

My husband graduated from Air Force Basic Training on the Fourth of July. As I stood in the blazing San Antonio sun watching the man I love pledge to defend our constitution and support our country, it felt like a beautiful moment. I was proud of my husband for carrying on a tradition that is dear to me. I was really excited to see him after eight weeks apart.

Over the past few years, I’ve gone through an intense period of personal growth. My thoughts and feelings about so many things have shifted wildly. My formerly wishy-washy political beliefs have found solid footing. I’ve learned so much heartbreaking history that I never heard about in school. My access to marginalized people increased, mainly via social media, and I have heard and understood their innumerable cries.

I spent my first 25 or so years of life swimming in so much privilege that I never felt like politics or world events really applied to me. I was a kind person, and that’s all I thought I needed to be.

But then I grew up, and I realized how problematic that kind of attitude really is. I started to seek and to listen.

I no longer feel the patriotism that I once felt. Like a child who grows up and realizes that their parent is not a superhero, I opened my eyes to the truth about “the greatest nation on earth.” The land I love is deeply flawed, and that makes me sad.

This year, celebrating our country as it is gives me pause. Black people are crying out, loud and clear, about the way they have suffered at the hands of police forces across the nation. Our president is reversing health care protections for trans people, putting them at risk. People are acting like wearing a mask during a deadly pandemic is akin to losing their right to religious freedom.

This country is just a lot right now, and the things I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. We need so many things to change before we can truly call this the Sweet Land of Liberty.

But I will still be celebrating the Fourth of July with my closest family this year because, while we are still working toward being the Land of the Free, we are already the Home of the Brave.

We are the home of the right to protest. I am proud to share this soil with courageous human beings who organize massive protests and demonstrations to demand change. To stand with your protest sign, knowing that demonstrations sometimes turn dangerous, but accepting that risk in order to affect real change is powerful and brave. I’ll celebrate the hope that I feel when I see police force policies changing and statues being removed in response to assertive, bold protesters who are unwilling to be silenced anymore. I’ll celebrate the protests of yesteryear that have led us to today.

I am proud of individual servicemembers who sign up to carry out military duties. “The military” is not just an industry to me. It’s my friends. My family. I am surrounded by airmen and soldiers in my life. I can acknowledge the issues many have with the military as a whole. But I am proud to know and love the individuals who serve to keep our military running. Of course, I wish the world was so peaceful that a standing military was obsolete, but that is not reality. I will wear my red, white and blue to acknowledge the men and women who make my life better just by being in it.

I hold onto the belief that things can still get better. It feels like something new is happening. I am hopeful that this presidential administration is almost done. My heart wants to believe that, come November, our country will vote to move on from this bizarre chapter of history. My family is grateful for the recent Supreme Court rulings that protect Dreamers and our LGBTQIA+ loved ones.

Since we are still practicing social distancing, we will be celebrating only with our closest family. We are all observing the same practices, so our three households feel comfortable having a small outdoor gathering this year. In many ways, I think this tiny Fourth of July celebration is exactly what we needed this year. We will be together — gay and straight, black and white, servicemember and civilian– celebrating the America we hope can be.

We will spend the day laughing and swimming because — especially during the darkest times — we need each other. My family can see all the flaws in our nation’s history and in its current state, but also celebrate because we live here together — and that’s our favorite place to be.

Last July 4th, we found out our last baby was our first daughter. This year, she’s a beautiful six-month-old. We will put a big America-themed bow on her head and introduce her to traditions that don’t have to die just because we aren’t feeling very patriotic right now.

This country feels like a mess in so many ways, but it’s our home, and we haven’t given up on it yet. My family will be celebrating as we always do. We will be together hoping for better days ahead, and celebrating the idea that maybe…just maybe…we are at the beginning of something big, and change is coming.

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