The Fourth of July is our holiday as a nation. We commemorate the final approval of the Declaration of Independence (not the actual decision to secede reached on the 2nd) with barbecues, fireworks, music, and by painting the town red, white, and blue. However, as momentous an occasion as we are celebrating on Independence Day, we need to realize there are other anniversaries that mark the freedoms we so proudly tout.
See, I believe it is the most patriotic thing we can do to recognize that freedom was not something that was achieved by signing a document in 1776, but rather something we've fought for since then. We've had to struggle to extend "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to every individual, and we still have wars to wage. Here are some dates to remember in the coming year to commemorate the battles we've fought and have to keep fighting to achieve our nation's founding dream.
1. Slavery Was Abolished
On December 6, 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified and slavery in the United States was abolished marking the very beginning of a still traveled path to racial equity in this country.
2. Women Can Now Vote
On August 18, 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and women were finally able to vote by national mandate. Written 42 years before by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the amendment finally saw passage in 1920 and was a major milestone for legal recognition of women's rights.
3. Schools Are No Longer Segregated
On May 17, 1954 Brown v. Board of Education was decided and the ruling that separate was never equal became a part of our nation's moral code. Along with other key rulings and legislation (most notably the Civil Rights Act), the United States began to see racial equality written into law.
4. Women Keep Fighting For Their Right to Choose
January 22, 1973 Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade was in her office on January 22 when the phone rang and her assistant was asked by a reporter if Ms. Weddington had a comment about the case. When the assistant responded, "Should she?" the reporter broke the news, "She won it." This case was a massive symbolic and legal victory for the women's rights movement. For many, it represents much of the progress that was made in advancing women's rights in the 60s and 70s and should be celebrated for it.
5. The Federal Government Now Recognizes Same-Sex Marriages
June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act allowing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. For the first time couples who were recognized in any of the 13 states that allow gay couples to marry were also recognized by the United States. There are other victories in the gay rights battle that are significant (I, for one think Lawrence v. Texas is just as important as Windsor), but let’s hope this is the one that goes down in the history books as the turning point in the gay rights movement.
There are only five dates above, and that is much too few to recognize every significant day that marks the struggle for dignity for every American. Because the truth is, everyday marks that fight for someone, somewhere. On this Independence Day, let’s remember that freedom, dignity, and liberty are things that have to be fought for constantly. Let’s remember the obstacles we’ve yet to overcome. Let’s remember the inroads being made on women’s rights, the lack of protection for transgendered people, and the legal exclusion of many of our immigrant population. On this Fourth of July, while we celebrate the anniversary of our country, let’s remember there’s work to be done to achieve our American dream.