The Fourth of July: Nationalism and Colonialism

Carol A. Hand

As the date of the quintessential celebration of colonial oppression for Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. approaches, signaled by loud explosions in the night, an image from my childhood comes unbidden to mind – a child crouching, head bowed, eyes closed, hands tightly covering ears.

crouching child

Photo Credit: Carol A. Hand

I remember how much I disliked attending these events with my family, surrounded by crowds of people cheering and oohing and aahing in the local park as the symbolic missiles of war blossom like booming “fiery flowers” in the darkened evening sky. I didn’t know the deeper symbolism then for Indigenous Peoples, but the mindless and frenzied fascination of the crowd frightened me. I realize it still does. It brings to mind a story I wrote about my experiences in Missoula, Montana, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

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Mount Jumbo montanalandtrusts dot org

Photo Credit: http://www.montanalandtrusts.org/successes/

I moved to this working class neighborhood in mid-August of 2004. From the woodlands of the northern mid-west, with a 3-year sojourn in the prairie lands of the central U.S., my westward-facing backyard view of the steep grassy slopes of a Mount Jumbo was both completely foreign and yet somehow made this feel like home. On my first 4th of July in East Missoula (2005), I admit that I was horrified by the way this normally quiet street was transformed into what felt like a war-zone. My dog cowered and my parakeets grew silent and ill as the unrelenting noise continued day and night for what seemed like an eternity. And the bags of trash I collected, spent fire cracker debris, confirmed the danger of exploding incendiary devices in crowded residential neighborhoods. Fortunately, my house had a metal roof, and although the firecracker debris made sharp clanking noises when they landed, I knew they wouldn’t start a fire.

This year, as I watched Mount Jumbo’s grass and trees burn, the neighborhood boomed and bloomed with what the local newspaper referred to as “fiery flowers.” Yet, this year was different. I have had a chance to reflect on the culture of my new community, a mixture of tiny houses and trailers on little plots of land. I saw families join together in celebration, and neighbors who normally work long hours come together to celebrate as well. Those of us who were new to the neighborhood were invited to participate in the “block party,” and were welcomed. Just as I left the house to join the group, I saw the fire spreading up the mountain’s side. In alarm, I called 911 and ran to let my neighbors know, convinced that they would not be setting off fireworks if they knew. I was shocked by the reactions of those neighbors I joined briefly. They knew the mountain was on fire and were unconcerned. They continued setting off fuses without pause, reminiscing about other fires in years past that burned the more rugged slopes of Mount Sentinel to our east. Chaos reigned in the street as children, teens, and adults haphazardly vied to light the missiles lined up in the middle of the tree-bordered street. As I watched, one neighbor had to dodge a misfired firecracker that must have singed the hair on his leg as it whizzed past.

mount jumbo fire makeitmissoula dot come

Photo Credit: Mount Jumbo Fire (makeitmissoula.com)

The celebration and coming together of those who have been in this neighborhood, some for a lifetime, had already set the gently rolling slopes of the mountain aflame. It would be easy to blame my hardworking neighbors for endangering others and the environment out of ignorance. Unrelenting, the barrage continued although the spreading fire on the mountain was visible to all. One family stood alone and lined up their firecrackers in the middle of the street in front of my side garden. They lit one firecracker after the other as I watched the mountainside burn. I had a sense that some of the missiles barely missed me as I stood in my backyard gazing toward the mountain (confirmed the next day as I picked up the debris.)  Although I consciously remember to respect other cultures and perspectives, I lost my willingness to tolerate this clear threat to my home and gardens. Finally, I had enough, and turned on every sprinkler, spraying water into the street and the dousing the next missiles ready to be fired. The barrage intensified for a moment, and then blessedly, stopped.

As I look at the blackened slope of the mountain the next morning, I wondered how to preserve a sense of community and celebration in this changing neighborhood while protecting people and property. I am not sure that suggesting that residents here travel to the city’s scheduled firecracker events is a reasonable solution. We live on the other side of the railroad tracks, the other side of Hellgate Canyon. The city proper is not a welcoming place for many residents from my part of town. The class divide is something many residents have lived with for a long lifetime. Longer-term residents fear that the newer members of this neighborhood like me are part of a gentrifying trend. They fear that we will bring our devaluing judgments of them closer to home and restrict the freedom of the community to celebrate as it always has.

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As I reread this essay, it occurred to me how far I am willing to go to respect the right of others to walk their paths. It takes a lot for me to act to stop the missiles that rain down on my gardens and threaten my well-being, whether they are real or symbolic. But I can’t silence my thoughts and the growing concern in my heart. As my neighbors lit their firecrackers while Mount Jumbo burned, I thought of the bullets and bombs that were raining down on Iraqi people at that moment. I thought about the symbolism of a nationalistic holiday that celebrates the domination of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. and the domination of peoples around the globe. My neighbors’ behavior reminded me of the unconfirmed myth about Nero fiddling while Rome burned. I couldn’t stay to be part of the block party. I walked to the staging area for fire fighters to see if there was anything I could do to help battle the blaze on the mountain. There wasn’t. Trained fire crews were climbing the side of the mountain and fighting from the air. Unlike the air battles in Iraq, the helicopters that flew overhead were not shooting, they were scooping water into large buckets from the nearby river to douse flames, while bombers were dropping fire retardant, not bombs.

mount jumbo bomber missoulian dot com

Photo Credit: The Missoulian

For me, this 4th of July will symbolize another type of fiddling while Rome burns. Instead of focusing the brilliance of our scientists and skills of our workers on the  development of alternative energy and toxic waste clean-up technologies, fracking vents bloom like fiery flowers across the global landscape. Instead of putting on the brakes and changing course on our path toward global destruction, our footprint is pressing “the pedal to the metal” in our race toward Armageddon.

Because I am no longer a child crouching in fear with eyes and ears closed, I wonder how I can turn on the sprinklers to stop the mad volley. I prefer to celebrate peace and balance quietly rather than war and domination with explosions that symbolize battle. The notions of “nations” and patriotism to nations and nationalities only serve to divide the peoples of the world.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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27 thoughts on “The Fourth of July: Nationalism and Colonialism”

  1. Carola,
    You are my people: what makes people “our” people doesn’t have anything to do with culture (an artificial construct) or race (something invented by those who like to talk about “us” and “them”) or ethnicity (what is that anyways?)…it has to do with what you have expressed here…
    Not just I disliked and feared firecrackers all my life, I also fear and dislike any nationalists celebrations, thoughts and encouragements: I’ve seen these destroying the lives of many all around the world, I’ve seen these as a consequence from the sense of entitlement coming from the delusion of being “the chosen” and disconnected from Nature and all the other beings around us…and I have felt so isolated and terribly alone in this…
    These last weeks have been increasingly depressing: like a shadow growing inside me, for “no reason”: but there are reasons, many reasons: the reasons you so wisely and beautifully captured in your post, the reasons of ignorance, stupidity, short-term vision and lack of responsibility that seem to be, more and more, part of our civilization.
    We try to stay sane and healthy, but how? Sometimes it is too much: how do you fight something like this? How do you fight the destruction of our home when our home is not just our garden and roof, but the entire planet? How do you find “your people” so we are enough to fight this?
    Even my language seems oppressive: why do I use the word “fight”? Maybe because this is a struggle, maybe because there is an “us” and “them”: us, the people who care for that Mountain, for that dog and your parakeets, the same people who care about the innocent in Iraq and Syria and Ukraine and in so many other places of the world…the “us” who care about the poor in Brazil left unchecked by the World Cup, and the koala who lost its home when the bulldozers came, and Satao, who was killed for its horns…and we have “them”: the ones sitting in front of millions of TVs screaming when “their” team wins or “their” star shows a new dress, the ones who drive their cars everywhere and fly to the Caribbean because “they deserve it”, or start fire crakers because is “so much fun” or deny climate change…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Sylvia. You have raised so many crucial issues with such eloquence.

      It’s interesting that the past few weeks have been especially depressing for you. The news about cutting off water and sewers for Detroit residents who didn’t/couldn’t pay their bills had the same effect for me. My guess is that the Detroit Water Department administrators who think it is appropriate to cut off live-giving sustenance and disease-preventing waste removal will go the fireworks display to celebrate the freedom America symbolizes to them — not the responsibility to assure the well-being of all community members, but the freedom to pursue their own narrowly-defined self-interest.

      When I read your blog, I also feel a sense of kinship with you on a deeper level of spirit. Your gardens and commitment to permaculture give me hope. The depth of your caring and thinking touches my heart and rekindles my sense of possibility.

      As I was writing this response, I remembered thoughts that were flowing through my mind last week during the few hours I had a chance to work in my yard. I replaced my old fence with 6-foot high chain link, so the deer will hopefully be less frequent visitors in the future. I am in the process of cleaning the area next to my neighbor’s growing landfill. Initially, I was so angry about the weeds and garbage I was digging up. “How can people be so clueless, to treat the earth this way? How can they be such ignorant pigs?” And then I stopped and reflected and chuckled to myself. “How can you expect to heal abuse with anger? Work done with angry thoughts cannot create a peaceful sanctuary. It cannot heal what has been harmed. Only love can do that. Love the earth and let your thoughts and touch begin the healing process.”

      At the moment, there are many days when I wonder if I will ever finish this project. But like life, it’s the process that is the most important. I am grateful I found your blog and have a chance to learn from you, my sister in spirit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Carola,
        People say social media disconnect people from reality and community…but my experience has been different: I’ve found real people out there, people like you and many other bloggers-activists who care a lot for the world and don’t just write, but also do (a lot) for their communities…
        What we do is always a process…somebody said once that we should be able to plant a tree or grow a garden without expecting to harvest either: we may never be able to see the results of our small efforts, and we are not doing this to be noticed but because we feel in our hearts that there is no other way possible, that living differently and doing nothing would be like dying or betraying what we are.
        The issue with the water in Detroit was part of my own “going down”, along with so many other things, sometimes I wonder if I should read less, but then it wouldn’t be me 🙂
        But you are right, you said: “Work done with angry thoughts cannot create a peaceful sanctuary. It cannot heal what has been harmed.”
        That idea came back again and again today…we need to find that love inside us, and continue this path.
        Thanks! 🙂

        Like

  2. Reblogged this on Living As If Others Really Mattered and commented:
    Dear readers:
    I’ve been feeling a bit strange lately, this post from Carola Hand came just in time…I’m posting it along with my response to her…
    Carola: You are my people: what makes people “our” people doesn’t have anything to do with culture (an artificial construct) or race (something invented by those who like to talk about “us” and “them”) or ethnicity (what is that anyways?)…it has to do with what you have expressed here…
    Not just I disliked and feared firecrackers all my life, I also fear and dislike any nationalists celebrations, thoughts and encouragements: I’ve seen these destroying the lives of many all around the world, I’ve seen these as a consequence from the sense of entitlement coming from the delusion of being “the chosen” and disconnected from Nature and all the other beings around us…and I have felt so isolated and terribly alone in this…
    These last weeks have been increasingly depressing: like a shadow growing inside me, for “no reason”: but there are reasons, many reasons: the reasons you so wisely and beautifully captured in your post, the reasons of ignorance, stupidity, short-term vision and lack of responsibility that seem to be, more and more, part of our civilization.
    We try to stay sane and healthy, but how? Sometimes it is too much: how do you fight something like this? How do you fight the destruction of our home when our home is not just our garden and roof, but the entire planet? How do you find “your people” so we are enough to fight this?
    Even my language seems oppressive: why do I use the word “fight”? Maybe because this is a struggle, maybe because there is an “us” and “them”: us, the people who care for that Mountain, for that dog and your parakeets, the same people who care about the innocent in Iraq and Syria and Ukraine and in so many other places of the world…the “us” who care about the poor in Brazil left unchecked by the World Cup, and the koala who lost its home when the bulldozers came, and Satao, who was killed for its horns…and we have “them”: the ones sitting in front of millions of TVs screaming when “their” team wins or “their” star shows a new dress, the ones who drive their cars everywhere and fly to the Caribbean because “they deserve it”, or start fire crakers because is “so much fun” or deny climate change…

    Like

  3. Carol, Great post, thank you. And I thought we were crazy here in Ohio? My mom, who still adores watching fireworks, tells me I hated them even when I was two weeks old, crying through the whole local display. I can’t claim it was principle or anything, I’m sure I just hated all the stench and noise. Come to think of it, most children I’ve known love noise. As soon as she could walk, my stepdaughter’s Miriam insisted on hard-soled shoes for maximum impact as she marched through the house. So do we live in a childish culture? It does feel so, and with serious efforts made to keep us that way. I hope enough of us can grow up anyway. I may even try it myself, who knows? – Linda

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    1. Thank you, Linda. I love your comments — you always make me smile with your insights and humor, even when your messages are serious (“we live in a childish culture”). I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who hated noise and crowds as a child 🙂

      Like

  4. Hi Carol, I’m scared of fireworks (and other loud banging sounds) so I can relate to your post. I don’t think it is about not wanting other people to have space to celebrate as much as having a very deep respect for life, and I think that’s the beginning of all healing.

    When I think about fire on the mountain, I think about all of the animals and plants and insects who lived there, and how sad it is that they are lost/had to flee, because of a celebration people may not be participating in with any degree of consciousness. i feel sad that life is replaced by stuff (and this happens such a lot in so many instances). If only we could value life, human and non-human, then our society and our world would be on a different path.

    I think that putting these conversations out there is the only way to go. Because if we can feel, and share that, then other people can see, and possibly think, and perhaps, as has happened in the past, these conversations can one day be more mainstream.

    I think the love and respect you share about nature (and your own animals), and the sadness and loss which comes with it deserves to be honoured. Hopefully one day people will.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nicci, I always think of you when I post and wonder if you will comment and what important insights you will share. I am never disappointed — I always learn something new.

      When I reread this essay as a potential part of a post, I realized I really didn’t judge my ex-Missoula neighbors as inferior people. I guess it’s easier for me to feel a sense of kinship with lower income, working-class people than it is for me to understand people who come from privileged backgrounds. I don’t think my way of viewing the world is superior. It’s just different for a bunch of reasons. I get the fact that my neighbors found a sense of belonging and community in their celebration. All of their lives, they have been told in millions of subtle and blatant ways that they are inferior — they should stay on their own side of the tracks. They haven’t had the same opportunities as others to be encouraged to work with their minds rather than their hands and their backs.

      In this context, what can be done to raise people’s awareness that it’s long past time for action to stop and reverse exploitation of people and land and animals? Who knows, maybe turning on the sprinklers is more effective than dialogue? And what does that mean in community or policy action? Maybe it’s what you are doing with social sculpture! I just know I can’t judge my former neighbors — blame is a waste of time — it keeps us from finding solutions.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think turning on the sprinklers is a form of dialogue, and that all parts of dialogue are important. You showed a different perspective (and I thought, a respectful and life – orientated one). I remember reading a few years ago about how, when the smallest and most vulnerable life is honoured, people recognize their own dignity to. Some of this research was done with prisoners who participated in a bird project, and other research by Louise van der Merwe, who looked at humane education, and noticed how this impacted upon the self worth of scholars from very deprived backgrounds. Care seems to increase a sense of life worth, even when not directed at the person involved.

        So I think your actions, showing care and concern, and strong enough to say “stop it” would also have given your neighbours a sense of dignity and value, in the long run. Sometimes, it’s acts which say ‘enough’ and declare the limit to mistreatment which are actually healing in themselves.

        I think the more we speak and share, and the more we put conversations out there, the more, eventually, they become a part of the collective. Feminists did it, after all.

        You know what’s so lovely about the social sculpture? It’s based on principles of very deep respect, such as listening and democracy. And i think it makes all the difference, as does your work.

        You honoured something deeper, Carol, and I think by doing that, you honoured the spirit of all humanity too.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Bread and circuses have always been fundamental to imperial power. The only thing that gives me solace is that the dollar – which props up the Empire and the parasitic corporations that suck our blood – is sinking fast as Asian Pacific nations line up behind Russia, China and the other BRICS nations. It won’t be long now.

    Like

  6. I recall coming across an article awhile ago that gave background on how fireworks are made in countries such as India by street people at slave wages, who often suffer 2nd and 3rd degree burns. It’s humbling to consider how intertwined we are as a global community and how much of the material comforts we enjoy in the U.S. are the results of other people’s literal blood, sweat and tears. The struggle is global and so must be the nature of our solidarity. Your prescient words remind me of Howard Zinn’s “A world without borders” interview. I hope the rest of your weekend is peaceful, Carol.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing this information, Jeff. It’s tragic that we waste people’s talents on making things life firecrackers (and plastic trinkets for Happy Meals), and exploit and injure them in the process. I wonder how many people know the true cost of these glittering noise-makers?

      I need to believe another world is possible, Jeff, especially when it seems that the police state is escalating its domination and brutality on a global level. I’m grateful for the virtual community that reminds me how many amazing people are each doing what they can!

      I send my best wishes to you and your family, Jeff 🙂

      Like

    2. I come from South America, where fireworks have been common since I recall (when we barely had idea of globalization and you wouldn`t find many imported things). Because of lack of regulations, we would have house fires, burns and even death every single Christmas and other celebration times…people would do it over and over again, without respect of those who didn`t like the practice, the elder, the sick, animals, etc. The natural consequences of burns and fires seemed not to be a deterrent. While government campaigns and education have reduced their use a bit, they continue to be a health and environmental problem (as they also produce wildfires and pollute water and soil with heavy metals, among other things)…
      The use of fireworks is just one of many examples of why the world is like it is: you find groups defending their use and production based on freedom, traditions and so on…we can say the same about bullfights, firearms, the use of private vehicles and so on…there is a common thread in all these: none of them are based on basic ethics: respect for the earth and its inhabitants and respect for people. We need to learn that we can`t just do whatever we like, that was ok when we were only a few and the consequences of our acts fell on a small group of beings and people. Now we are more and our consequences can be felt everywhere and by almost everybody, including future generations…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for sharing such an interesting and important perspective from South America, Silvia. Your insights about becoming mindful of the consequences of our actions for the health and safety of our environment, other people, and animals are crucial to remember. I wonder if it’s freedom people are expressing with firecrackers, guns, and bullfights, or if its a way to combat feelings of insignificance by dominating others? (I often realize that I really am clueless about why people behave the way they do.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I am clueless too. I work with people from all over the world. Individually and in small groups, with few exceptions, people are nice and seem to have similar values of caring, etc.but people tend to behave differently when in big groups. Most nazis were “nice” family-oriented people, so were the military who killed 30,000 in my country in 1976 coup d’etat. We can say the same about the thousands that buy stuff, drive everywhere, etc…we are all very contradictory beings: wonderful and horrible…“The doors of heaven and hell are adjacent and identical.”, I guess we just need to continue loving and looking for a way…:)

          Liked by 1 person

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