This 4th of July, we've been thinking about freedom and what it means. In America, tradition tells us to fire up the barbecue, chill some beers, and relax under the stars for a fireworks display. It's a chance for us to reconnect and unwind with friends and family, but like many holidays, some of Independence Day's original intention has been lost. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted by the 13 colonies, claiming independence from Britain.
But whose independence was gained? By 1776, slavery had been institutionalized and Thomas Jefferson himself enslaved more than 600 people over the course of his lifetime, after claiming "all men are created equal." We have to remember that our country was born out of a search for religious freedom. Frederick Douglas, the formerly enslaved abolitionist, gave a speech in 1852 about the hypocrisy of the Fourth of July. He said,
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.
What is freedom? It's defined as, "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint." The events of the past month have underscored the fact that so many in our country are targeted for acting, speaking, or thinking freely. And because, as Martin Luther King, Jr stated, "No one is free until we are all free," a celebration of freedom may not be warranted on this day, or any day until that is the case.
Fighting for freedom and independence is at the core of American History, but we still haven't won the fight. Standing up for what is right is at the core of YES AND-- we break conventions in how we design, source and sell apparel because we know the norm is harmful. We are proving that fashion can be good for people and planet. Likewise, as citizens in a country still searching for her truth, we must challenge the status quo if we want our society to evolve.
This year, let's "celebrate" Independence Day by acknowledging that a lot of the work that needs to be done, collectively, involves taking on some discomfort. Rebelling & standing up for those who continue to be oppressed is a slow and sticky process. Let's start today simply by being more conscious of the biases within ourselves, checking in on our friends-- especially Black friends, and speaking up against bigotry when we encounter it. Or, we can spend some time reading up on the history we weren't taught. As you skewer veggies with a relative, start a conversation you might not have had. Lose your gaze in the fireworks and think about the potential we have as a collective.
We are all at different places in our journey to understand ourselves and our fellow humans better. Try to be patient, share the resources you appreciate with the people you love, and continue to challenge systems that perpetuate the inequality that exists in our country today.
How will you stand up? Share your story with us.