Kaitlyn Babel of Castro Valley had to think long and hard this year about the Fourth of July.
She said she’s looking forward to honoring the service of her brother, who is in the Navy, and her cousin, a police officer. But the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion has left her disappointed. It was a hard choice, considering all that’s going on in the country, but she said she will be celebrating.
“I was definitely a little torn,” said Babel, 14, a 4-H Club member who was tending to her two pigs at the Alameda County Fair. “But at the end of the day, I just want to celebrate the people that are good.”
Babel was certinaly not the only Bay Area resident reckoning this year with how to mark the Fourth of July: A holiday celebrating the birth of America — that comes as the nation appears to be splitting at the seams.
America’s divisions are on display for all to see at the moment: Recent Supreme Court decisions on abortion, gun rights and environmental regulation have drawn heavy criticism. The January 6th Select Committee hearings have exposed a former president’s plan to hold the presidency through antidemocratic means — and the support he still enjoys as he prepares to seek the White House again.
The pandemic, and the million people it killed in the United States. Mass shootings. Hate crimes against Asian Americans, Black people LGBTQ+ people and others. Gas prices on the rise. Supply chain issues keeping shelves bare. A war raging in Europe.And wildfire season is ready to kick off in earnest any day.
Among some in the Bay Area’s progressive majority, there are feelings of loss, defeat and hopelessness about the direction of the country. Some aren’t even celebrating.
Jourdan Sales of Oakland said she’s shaken by the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which she views as a roll back of protections for women. It has left her feeling betrayed and saddened at the country’s direction, she said Sunday.
“Living somewhere where my autonomy is being threatened daily doesn’t really make me feel like I want to celebrate,” said Sales, 32, while grabbing a coffee at a farmers market in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood. “There’s a lot about this country that I don’t feel like is worth celebrating.”
Of course, even on a happier Independence Day, fireworks are a terror for her furry friend: “I’ll be staying home and soothing my cat,” Sales said.
Others that lean to the left said they still plan to bust out their barbecues – but there’s a shadow hanging over the day.
Kevin Wagner Foster, from Richmond, has been keeping a close eye on the January 6th Committee hearings, which grabbed this week’s headlines after explosive testimony from a mid-level Trump staffer. Standing beside his wife Sally at the Alameda County Fair, he said he’ll be celebrating Monday, but will be thinking about what he views as increased corruption in the government and a lack of accountability on behalf of Republican politicians.
“I guess I’ll reflect on the current state of things,” Wagner Foster said. “I wish everybody was on the same page instead of so much division among us. It’s not cool.”
But among the blue sea of progressives are the Bay Area’s red dots – those who expressed joy over the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, scorn for President Joe Biden and the state of the economy. Some shared the view that not participating in the Fourth of July is a dereliction of duty.
Ralph Rogers, 78, stood out at a farmers market in downtown San Carlos. Amid a crowd of people, he wore a blue hat emblazoned with a seal for the Commander in Chief. He said he debated wearing a vest emblazoned with the American flag, but thought he’d save it for tomorrow.
He lamented that no one else around him decided to also flaunt red, white and blue.
“It bothers me that there’s not enough patriotism,” said Rogers, a self-proclaimed Republican and resident of San Carlos.
Other conservatives, like Martinez resident Joe Summers, called the recent Roe v. Wade decision “fantastic” and described the January 6th Committee as a “dog and pony show.” Standing beside a game booth at the fair, Summers wore a straw cowboy hat with a t-shirt emblazoned with “Let’s Go Brandon,” a coded political slogan against the current president. He said he was angry about gas prices especially, since it now costs over $30 to fill his motorcycle’s tank.
Will Summers be celebrating the Fourth: Definitely, not only because America is “the best country ever” but also, he said, because Democrats are facing tough prospects heading into the November midterm elections as the economy sours and the president’s approval ratings plummet.
“We’re going to get rid of those woke pieces of crap soon,” he said.
Though the divide may appear infinite between the different interpretations and approaches to the holiday, San Jose State University history professor Libra Hilde said that the Fourth of July has been a contentious occasion since the country’s founding.
She brought up the example of Vicksburg, Miss., whose residents refused to celebrate Independence Day for 80 years after the American Civil War because the town was taken over by the Union on that day.
“The Fourth of July has always meant different things to different people,” said Hilde, an expert on the Civil War. “I think it always will.”
Hilde said she thinks that no matter one’s political stripes, there’s one thing every American can do on the Fourth.
“People need to be thinking about how to make the nation better,” she said. “Nothing is ever perfect. And nothing ever will be perfect.”
Being honest about the country’s issues, warts and all, is what the holiday is about.
“Pointing out mistakes is not unpatriotic,” she said. “You’re being highly patriotic. You’re saying, ‘We can be better.’ ”
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