On the Occasion of Our Nation’s 244th Birthday
On the Occasion of Our Nation’s 244th Birthday
The Reverend Patricia Catalano
June 28, 2020
Next Saturday is Independence Day. It is traditional to have parades, barbecues, fireworks. The mood is one of exultation and pride for the great nation that we call the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
However, this Fourth of July will be different from many others in recent history.
It will be a day marked by a staggering loss of life: As I speak, over 126,000 people have died from COVID-19 and 2.5 million are infected. As the Director of the CDC said in Congress this week, the United States has been brought to its knees by the pandemic. And there seems to be no end in sight, especially now that several states have had spikes in the number of infections. Many governors who only a few days ago were intent on reopening are being forced to reconsider and yield to the grim reality.
This Fourth of July will be a day marked by increasing poverty. Our economy is in disarray as a result of the pandemic. Millions have lost their jobs and many who are employed are just a paycheck away from homelessness. Last Saturday, during the Moral March on Washington organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, we heard testimonies from those affected. It was sobering. We learned that there are currently over 140 million poor people in this country–that is, 46% of the population. It is estimated that when COVID-19 is done with us that number will be 50%!!! All of this is appalling, particularly in a country like the United States—a superpower, one of the richest countries in the world.
This Fourth of July will be remembered not for its parades but for the protests happening all over the country in righteous indignation for the unjust killing of African-Americans at the hands of a violent police force. These deaths are nothing new; they’ve happened many times before. People have protested before; movements have been created before. So, what is new this time?
I think what is new now is that our consciousness has been awakened at a higher level. Maybe because everyone is feeling vulnerable, beaten down by COVID and the economy, people are being transformed–maybe now they (and I include here a large contingent of white people) are truly willing to help change the unjust system that has kept most people of color oppressed for so long. We are collectively mourning and bone-tired of so much death, of so much injustice. Maybe we’ve all had enough!
Maybe in the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that it took for a cop to kill George Floyd by mercilessly kneeling on his neck, the nation’s consciousness was raised from its stupor. And everyone collectively protested and said enough!
The United States of America will be 244 years old on Saturday. I ask you, how are we going to celebrate? We cannot waste this moment of righteous anger; we cannot waste the energy that is moving people to protest and to do the work needed to change a status quo that is hurting many— in particular, people of color.
First of all, we have to support those who are out there protesting; those who are working to change the structures of oppression that have plagued this country from its inception. We have to go out and vote. We have to get involved. Those of us who are white must become awakened to what white supremacy has meant not only to black people but to Indigeous people, Latinos, Asian-Americans. The list of aggressions and microaggressions is as long as this country is old.
Before we can call the US the land of the free, we must come to terms with the fact that the ground where we stand here in the nation’s capital was the ancestral land of the Anacostans. The Piscataway, Nentengo, Mattaponi and other tribal nations lived along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. They were thriving cultures when the English colonizers made their way to these shores in the 1600s. In less than 40 years, they were ravaged by diseases brought from Europe and pushed away from their lands. Now, there are about 4,163 American Indians living in present-day Washington DC, and only a few of the tribes have been recognized by the Federal government. On top of that, American Indians, together with African-Americans and Latinos, are the ones suffering the most under the two-pronged attack of COVID-19 and the ailing economy.
Before we can truly become the land of the free, we must come to terms with the fact that even though freedom was granted to the descendants of those who were taken from their African homeland and forcefully brought to this country to be somebody’s property, true freedom for African-American citizens is yet to be fully realized. Black people will never be completely free in the United States as long as they continue to be subjected to the injustice and discrimination that are built into the American system. There will be no complete freedom for this nation as long as any person of color continues to be killed in the streets, or even in their own home like Breonna Taylor, because the color of their skin is not white. I could go on naming the accumulated injustices that have bloodied this land of the free. But I’ll just let what I’ve said so far sink in.
I came to the United States 30 years ago. I came as a legal immigrant. I came because I wanted to, because I had been in love with this country since I was a child. I wanted to live the American Dream. I believed that America was the land of opportunity where anyone could attain success if only they worked hard. And it did work for me. However, only recently have I come to fully understand that restrictions apply. The American dream can be an American nightmare for those whose skin color does not match the hue of white privilege. It is a brutal awakening, but it is the only way out of our current predicament.
If we really want to achieve the transformation society needs, if we really want to become the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, then we (and by we, I mean white people in particular) need to wake up and make a serious commitment to work together to change the system of racial, social and economic injustice that cripples millions. The moment is now. We all have gifts and talents. Our country needs them. Let us give these beloved United States the best birthday present ever. Let us have the courage to wake up, to protest, to listen, to be prophets, to be doers, to be agents of change. Let us become Christians not only in word but also in deed by following in Jesus’ footsteps, by speaking truth to power and by acting to help redress the deepest injustices in the land.
Then, and only then, will we truly become the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Here is where you can see the bulletin and all the readings: https://www.stmarks.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/June-28_-2020_-4-Pentecost-AM.pdf.