WASHINGTON, D.C.–Widespread political division has many Washington, D.C. area residents and college students questioning the meaning of Independence Day this year and how protests should be handled.
American University students and employees interviewed Wednesday disagreed about the holiday’s meaning, saying it carries its own traditions no matter the year.
“Nostalgia,” said Stephanie Blenko, 19, speaking about Independence Day this year. “I’m away from home for the first time and the fireworks remind me of home.”
With a nation that is politically divided, millennials said July Fourth means time with friends rather than time celebrating patriotism or the holiday’s deep symbolic meaning. Younger residents showed more resistance to the traditional patriotic interpretation, but some still said it’s a time to heal political divides.
“In the 1700’s, we came together and I think we can also come together now,” said Laurel Gupton, 19, of Essex Fells, New Jersey. “We are all still American.”
Still, Gupton and many others interviewed this week said planned protests or political dissent on the holiday were a reminder of America’s freedoms.
Mindy Ford, 45, said she is unhappy with the current administration, but vowed to celebrate July 4 and how the far the nation has come.
Still, some said protesting on the Fourth of July remains in stark contrast to what the Founding Fathers stood for.
“Protesting on the Fourth seems to be anti-patriotism; that’s my observation,” said Barry Jones, a 57-year-old independent voter.
Celebrating a holiday that commemorates America is a hard pill to swallow for some, especially those who still feel institutional racism is a problem.
A 2016 report published by the Pew Research Center said that 88 percent of blacks believe America still has steps to take to ensure equality for their race.
That will manifest itself in how people like 23-year-old Dekyan Dennis, who is black, will celebrate the Fourth of July.
“I will not be celebrating,” said Dennis, who said her boyfriend serves in the U.S. Army. “The flag represents equality and justice but our nation doesn’t embody these ideals.”
Although fireworks and large American flags are at the forefront of most July Fourth celebrations, what they symbolize is anything but concrete.
“July Fourth is about beliefs,” Blenko said.