When I was 8 years old, the Fourth of July meant three things: decorating my bicycle for the morning parade down Main Street in Half Moon Bay, aiming my best swing at a piata at the annual family barbeque, and watching the fireworks explode over the foggy ocean. My biggest concern was whether I would have the courage to light off a firecracker in the driveway.

The Fourth of July is the day to celebrate the birth of a great nation, and celebrate we certainly did.

Last month, when I sat down at the breakfast table with my parents to make plans for our annual Independence Day party, I discovered an unexpected reluctance. My stepfather, a Vietnam War veteran and registered Republican, has become dismayed with the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush administration. My mom, who has voted with the Democrats for many years, now finds that she is losing faith in her party as time and again they vote to fund the war in Iraq.

In the post-college world, I find myself working with a women's peace organization, CODEPINK, that is considered to be radically leftist for believing that we should not drop bombs on innocent people, send our troops into harm's way unnecessarily, or occupy foreign lands. At 23, I have already surpassed the age of over 1,200 of my peers who have died serving this country in Iraq. That means that over half the soldiers who have given their lives for this war were younger than me. Thousands more are in hospitals, and it is hard to believe that anyone could come home psychologically unwounded.


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Despite the unease, I would have thought it out of the question for my family to cancel the tradition of the Fourth of July BBQ party that predates my birth. I was wrong. After three years of ongoing war in Iraq and decreased freedoms here at home, my family feels there is little to celebrate on this Independence Day.

Our conversation about how to observe the Fourth of July this year revolved around contradictions.

How can we party when every day our soldiers, and innocent Iraqis are dying?

How can we celebrate our independence when we are denying the same freedoms to the Iraqi people, and maintaining a dependence on oil that is destroying our planet?

My mom said that she felt she didn't "have the stomach" to celebrate. We discussed celebrating our nation, aside from the current national leadership, but the deeper we got into American history, the more starkly we saw the contrast to our current political situation.

I recalled another memory from my childhood in Half Moon Bay: school lessons about American history. In school we learned about how brave "patriots" stood up to the forces of the British empire and courageously created a new country with a vision of a real representative government. We studied our nation's founding fathers, rebels who resisted imperial rule. I can still remember the words of James Madison, who said in 1795 that "of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded," and that "no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

So, this year, our family is observing the 230th anniversary of our nation's founding without barbeques or fireworks. It will be a quiet, reflective day. I have decided to gather with American patriots who will hold a weeklong rolling fast July 5-12 outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's house and office in San Francisco, calling on her to bring the troops home — fast! We will be fasting in solidarity with women and men in Washington, D.C., who are launching an open-ended hunger strike against the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq. We will take inspiration from the long tradition of people, including Mahatma Gandhi, the Suffragists, and Cesar Chavez, who deprived themselves of food as a way to resist oppressive policies.

One day I want to again celebrate the Fourth of July. I want to celebrate the country that my great-grandmother worked hard to get here citizenship in; the country that promotes diversity and values dissent; a humble, safe place to be where respect and trust are valued above power and control. I want to throw a party to declare independence from war, and in a world free from preemptive, unjust wars, once again have nothing to fear but sparks on fingertips. 

Rachel "Rae" Abileah grew up in Half Moon Bay and lives in San Francisco. She is the local groups coordinator for CODEPINK Women for Peace. She can be contacted at rae@codepinkalert.org.