Photo: Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom.
The recent hate crimes in Belmont, Winthrop, and Brighton, so close to home and so near the Fourth of July, have me thinking about the meaning of our national holidays.
Seven of our eleven federal holidays celebrate our struggles for freedom and justice. Each of our national struggles have occurred in the context of broader international liberation struggles.
Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday celebrate our declaration of independence from King George III and honor those who fought our revolutionary war to uphold that declaration. Our revolution was just the first of many revolutions to replace the autocratic rule of European monarchs with government by the people.
Our new holiday, Juneteenth, celebrates the final end of slavery in the United States. More than 600,000 died in our Civil War. By comparison, only 25,000 died in our revolutionary war. Almost as many soldiers died in the Civil War as in all our other wars combined. Roughly 10 percent of the men between 18 and 45 died in the Civil War and many more were maimed for life. The union soldiers sacrificed to free four million people from slavery.
It took a horrific convulsion to expunge the stain of slavery that ran so deep in our nation and to enshrine liberty for all in our constitution. It is fitting that we finally have a holiday that specifically celebrates that milestone in our progress.
Martin Luther King Day celebrates a great leader and those who struggled alongside him to make freedom real for African Americans by dismantling the state and local laws discriminating against them.
The struggle for universal civil rights and freedoms continues to this day, but it is broader and more complex. It is not just about changing laws. It is about changing the behavior of individuals and institutions who may discriminate against not only African Americans but other minorities and/or women. All nations that are committed in good faith to basic human rights continue to struggle to realize those rights universally for their citizens.
The recent hateful incidents diminish the freedom of all minorities. Whether one is visibly Black, visibly Asian, visibly an orthodox Jew or visibly transgender, one should be able to walk the streets free from the fear of random violence.
Many people who commit hate crimes may suffer from some form of mental illness, but it is hateful ideology that leads them to translate their inner struggles into hateful actions. All of us, whether healthy or unhealthy, act based on the ideas we are exposed to. That is why it is so important that all of us speak out against violence and broadcast our appreciation for diversity.
We celebrate and thank the law enforcement officers who respond when hateful violence unfolds. They, like our soldiers, put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms. Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom. On those days, we also honor our public safety personnel.
Labor Day honors public safety personnel, teachers, and other unionized workers, but more broadly honors all those who fought for better wages and working conditions in the international labor movement. It is easy to forget across the distance of years just how low wages often were and how cruel the workplace could be. The labor movement fought and won great victories to create the relative comfort that many of us now enjoy. As in the civil rights movement, there is more to be done.
Columbus Day has become controversial for good reason. Columbus’ revealed the Americas to Europeans, but he did is so in the service of a monarch bent on acquiring resources for royal aggrandizement. Those who came after him destroyed the great pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas. I support rethinking that holiday to align it better with the consistent values expressed by our other holidays.
The remaining three federal holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day — bring families together to enjoy the freedoms we have been blessed with.
Andy Illiano says
“Those who came after him (Columbus) destroyed the great pre-Colombian civilizations” And by this logic we should abolish Columbus Day? Your logic is severely flawed for multiple reasons.
1) The “great pre-Colombian civilizations” committed their own atrocities on each other way before Columbus arrived. Just look into Aztec slave markets, caribs vs Tainos, Pequots vs Narragansetts,etc.. They have their own stories of conquest and brutality. But for some reason we need to ignore this and just find the good to celebrate. I wish that was reciprocal.
2) Read your quote again and take special note of “those who came after him (Columbus)…”. I can think of no better fitting example than the injustice suffered by Native Americans at the hands of the US government. Last time i checked there were a lot more than just 13 stars on our flag. And those stars were not gained without going to war with the Natives and breaking treaties, etc… But as you said, we should continue celebrating Independence Day and I guess overlook those atrocities as well.
Columbus has become the escape goat for atrocities committed by leaders and others that came AFTER him. Often Columbus’ writings and those of Bartolomé de las Casas are misquoted by Howard Zinn and taken out of context to push his Anti-Columbus narrative. But blaming Columbus for the direct actions of others is like blaming the Chinese for ever gun death in the world because they discovered gun powder. (yeah, ridiculous)
To Italian-Americans Columbus Day is a celebration of our heritage, culture, and contributions made to this country and it is being taken away every year by the slanderous lies of an uneducated mob. Columbus Day should be kept.
Finally, don’t get me wrong by what I said about the US government and Native Americans. I love the Fourth of July! I celebrate with fireworks, and BBQ, and I fly my American flag. But I also celebrate Columbus Day. To do otherwise would make me a hypocrite.