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The Fourth of July, 2024

Once upon a time, there was America, and it was great, or at least that's what my teachers taught.

Then I grew up, and one by one over the decades of my life, the grand principles of America — freedom, fairness, meritocracy, democracy, and the biggest whopper, “a peace-loving nation” — have been relentlessly revealed as red, white, and blue horse doodoo.

I wish America was about liberty and justice for all, but the only evidence of it remains a pledge that grade-schoolers are forced to recite when they're too young to possibly understand it.

The USA led me on. All through my wonder years, this country was built up as the best, and even after the awful truth was revealed, well, I still want America to be what everyone says it is — that green lady in the water, holding the torch up high.

And now, mere days after the Supreme Court decided that Presidents are above the law, it’s Independence Day. The fireworks and patriotism are loud and dangerous, like America. The patriotism is what fuels war, and puts all those white crosses in all those cemeteries.

My head knows better, but on the Fourth of July my heart wants to see something good about my country ’tis of thee. So today I attended a naturalization ceremony, and watched a few hundred immigrants become Americans, on the lawn at the Seattle Center.

It’s nice that I could choose it and do it, needing nobody's permission, with no checkpoints to pass through, no questions to answer. I love that about America, and sincerely appreciate the bejeebers out of everyone who’s made my freedom possible.

Getting to the ceremony, though, took me down Third Avenue, where the sidewalks for blocks are filled with hundreds of tents and cardboard boxes, and the people who live in them.

This too is America — the world's greatest economic powerhouse, so We The People could certainly help. But taxing millionaires and billionaires another fraction of a percentage point would be the cost, and that’s asking too much. So nobody even counts the corpses, and there’s no knowing how many of the homeless suffer and die.

And with that chipper thought, I'd arrived on the Center grounds. In an open pavilion, there were seats for 400 new citizens, surrounded only by grass and standing room for the crowd. As I wandered around, a band started playing “Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue.”

To see the ceremony, I would’ve had to stand in the sunshine, but I'm not a stander and sunshine makes me sweat. Instead I settled into a shaded area where my only view was of the crowd, but the music came through. A fair trade-off, I think. This event was more for the ears than the eyes.

I sat on a Volkswagen-size rock that had been sandblasted smooth and engraved with the poetry of Margaret Atwood, Pablo Neruda, Hildegard of Bingen, and others. The poems seem to have been selected for whimsy, and I liked that, but not enough to write any of it down and quote it at you.

The band was never introduced, or I missed it, but they played a medley of Gershwin, Berlin, Sousa et al, including “The Liberty Bell March,” now better known as the theme to Monty Python's Flying Circus.

It wasn't a military band; more likely high school kids, because they played the music without blasting it bombastically. “It's a Grand Old Flag” sounded more like a square dance, than an invitation to combat. And they got a few notes flat, making me more certain it was a school band.

Then a family cut through on the trail in front of my poetry rock — mom, dad, and a little girl. “It's a Fourth of July orchestra!” she semi-shouted, genuinely excited.

“Lindsey, you're kicking up dust,” her mother scolded, and maybe she was, since the trail was unpaved.

The kid gave her mom a dour look and said, “Well, we can't have that,” and rolled her eyes. About eight years old, she delivered the line with a Woody Allen’s worth of sarcasm, and I laughed, and the kid’s mom looked ready to scold me, too.

After the girl’s dust had faded, the band played “The Star Spangled Banner,” accompanied by a singer who seemed to lose track of the lyrics.

Then came three speeches from local leaders, all mercifully brief, thank you. Each speaker said the clichés you'd expect, and the Governor sounded especially bored. I wondered whether he'd put half as much thought about freedom into his speech as I'm putting into this half-assed essay, but he's the Governor, so of course an employee or AI wrote the speech for him.

After that came a Native drum session, which was beautiful. It lasted only a few minutes, and about halfway through, without anyone asking, the crowd started clapping in time with the drums.

Then came another speaker, and I was “watching” only by ear, but he was unmistakably Native American, and unlike anything the politicians had said, this guy was worth hearing. Addressing the newbie citizens, he said, “The Earth loves you, whether you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist, and America welcomes you, whether you're black, tan, yellow, red, white, or something new woven together.”

I could only scribble those few words in my notebook, because that's the point where I had to unzip my backpack, looking for something to blow my nose and wipe my eyes on. What he'd said was a warm embrace in words, from someone who'd have complete justification for open hostility.

Looking around, I saw the crowd a bit out of focus, a sight for wet eyes. A thousand people were waving flags, and some were holding red, white, and blue helium balloons. They were friends and family of the newbies, or perhaps like me they were simply believers in the newbies, and the concept.

Then came a roll call of the countries our new citizens came from, starting with Afghanistan (1 new American), Algeria (2), Argentina (5), Australia (4)… By the time whoever was reading got to Cameroon (1), I was blubbering. Working our way to Zambia (1) and Zimbabwe (2) took about ten minutes, what with all the applause after each country was named.

And finally, the oath was read by Judge David Estudillo, and recited by 400 new Americans. Each of them renounced any allegiance to the countries they came from, promised to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and agreed to perform “noncombatant service” in the American military “when required by the law,” which here's hoping is never.

“…I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” And with that, the USA has 400 new Americans, applause filled my ears, and I wiped away the last of my tears.

In the whole ceremony, there'd been no prayers. The only direct mention of the military was in the oath, and in a politician’s speech, when he singled out one of the day’s new citizens who’s already on active duty in the Army.

And then I came home, with plenty to think about.

Patriotism is mostly a scam, I believe — a way to convince you that people who probably ought to be in prison are instead fine Americans and you should vote for ’em.

That's mostly, though, and today was an exception. Of all the America I've seen, and man I've seen a shitload of America, today was the very best. There are times when being proud to be American is for real.



  1. Bruce Anderson July 5, 2024

    A truly great essay, Doug.

    • Doug Holland July 6, 2024

      Whoa, I got an attaboy from Bruce! Seriously (or srsly, as the kids say), that’s like Tony Hawk saying “Nice shred, old man.” Highest compliment of 2024, for me :)

    • Ezekiel J. Krahlin July 7, 2024

      Indeed, it was a BRILLIANT paean to America’s hypocrisy and broken dreams. Marco McClean read it over the airwaves last Friday night (“Memo of the Air Nighttime Radio” on KNYO), which I have spliced out and placed on my Google Drive for anyone’s listening pleasure:

      P.S.: By the way, Bruce, on June 12th I attempted to pay online for an annual subscription to your newspaper. But an error happened in process, possibly during the Paypal interaction. So I informed the web editor about it (which is the email provided for any questions or problems re. payment). A short while later I checked my savings account to see the payment went through anyway, which I also informed the web editor about, with proof (a screen capture of said transaction from my bank’s online account). Yet the webmaster has not gotten back to me in all this time.

      So then I contacted YOU via email on June 26th, reiterating what I posted to your web editor. Yet you have not responded, either, and I really would like to have full access to the AVA, and am glad to support your publication. I now end this reply by saying I’m elated at your rapid recovery from cancer surgery, which Marco has reported about on his radio show.

      • Bruce Anderson July 7, 2024

        Apologies. We’ll get it straightened out.

        • Ezekiel Krahlin July 13, 2024

          Thank you, all is fine now, Bruce!

  2. George Dorner July 5, 2024

    We native-borns who have citizenship bestowed upon us often fail to appreciate Americans by choice.

    • George Hollister July 7, 2024

      More importantly we fail to appreciate where they came from. For the sake of enlightenment, Americans should for one year, go live and work anywhere in Africa, Latin America, China, India, and the Middle East outside of Israel.

  3. Chuck Dunbar July 5, 2024

    Yes, Beautifully done piece. Some glimmers of hope mixed with the stark awareness of what’s real.

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