My family and I had a grand time yesterday celebrating the 4th of July in our quiet little community of Claremont, nestled against the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in eastern Los Angeles County. The day began in the relative cool of the morning, with a 5K run through the village and the colleges, followed by a pancake breakfast and carnival in Memorial Park. At 4:00 pm, with the temperature now hovering around 100 degrees, the annual parade ambled sporadically down the tree lined Indian Hill Blvd.
The parade was replete with hundreds of kids riding patriotically decorated scooters and bikes, or being pulled by their proud but sweaty parents in similarly adorned wagons. There were shiny law enforcement and emergency response vehicles exercising their sirens, veterans, local politicians, troops of Boy and Girl Scouts, the high school marching band, junior cheer and all star teams, Pilgrim Place pacifists with "end this endless war" signs and an international association carrying flags from about a dozen nations reminding us that America is a melting pot of immigrants. There was a contingent of Democratic Party activists highlighting with banners the three pillars of the social contract: Social Security, Medicare and the ACA. There were no Republican Party entries this year. They usually have at least a token presence, even though Claremont is known as the "City of Trees and PhD's," a bastion of lefties, where overt displays of Republicanism traditionally receive a tepid response at best.
And there were a lot of American flags. Hand held flags. Flags shimmering furtively from handle bars and bicycle helmets. Flags draped along the sides of floats and pick up trucks. Flag print top hats and shirts. Bermuda shorts. Socks and shoes and probably underwear too. Red, white and blue streamers meticulously woven through bicycle spokes. There were a lot of American flags. Joyous.
After all that we walked home to eat barbequed hamburgers, corn on the cob and cool off, in anticipation of the fireworks show to come at 9:00 pm.
Meanwhile, there was a lot of flag waving about an hour south of us in Murrieta. But this was a different kind of flag waving. I saw footage on the T.V. news as we were preparing dinner. It was not the joyous flag waving of celebration we had just witnessed in the Village. It was angry flag waving; the kind false patriots use to establish their credentials and hide their ignorance, hatred and fear.
On Tuesday, apparently inspired by their Mayor, Alan Long, about 150 of them chanting "Go home" and "We want to be safe" had successfully blocked three Homeland Security buses carrying mostly undocumented Central American women and children who had been flown to California from Texas for processing. They had signs too. Signs that said "Stop Illegal Immigration" and "Illegals Out."
A news release sent out by city officials on Monday stated that Long and the Riverside County city objected to the immigrants’ transfer.Yesterday, counter protesters also showed up and tensions were high. Someone had torn up plastic flags that had been hung on a chain link fence. A distraught "patriot" was shown holding the shredded remains of one flag while another woman unashamedly took credit for the deed symbolically expressing her disdain for the way the immigrants were being treated.
“This is a failure to enforce federal law at the federal level,” Long said in the release.
But after Tuesday’s event, Murrieta City Manager Rick Dudley sent out another message to the community, saying Long’s original comments had been misinterpreted.
I turned off the T.V. and we all ate our cheeseburgers in the yard. We walked the four or five blocks to watch the city fireworks display at Pomona College. I'd guess about 4,000 to 5,000 people packed the track and field stadium, but it could have been more.
A local band was skillfully belting out note-for-note covers of vintage rock hits. My mood had been fouled by the news about the immigration protests and I made a snarky comment to my 19 year old daughter that they were "just another cover band." I'm a musician and am sympathetic to the trap that these talented musicians found themselves in. I first heard them in the 1990's when I was new to the Claremont area and they were basically still doing the same show. That's what people want. Something familiar. People know what they like because they like what they know.
Then there was a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner sung by the very nervous winner of the High School National Anthem contest. She had been in the parade. She was probably a very solid contestant but singing in front of a stadium full of thousands of mostly local citizens laid bare her youth and inexperience; her voice cracked and she ran short of breath on a couple of phrases, but to her credit she stayed in tune and nailed the climatic last high note. Good for her!
The fireworks were spectacular and very loud. They exploded triumphantly to a sound track of typical patriotic chestnuts like Souza's "Stars and Stripes Forever," Springsteen's "Born in the USA," Ray Charles' soulful "America the Beautiful," and Katy Perry's optimistic "Firework." I pointed out to my daughter how good Ray Charles was and she asked "but isn't this just a cover song?" I explained that what Charles did with "America" was a unique rendition and not a note-for-note cover. I told her that his version was so good that other musicians would be hard pressed to do an even half-way decent cover. She got it.
By the time the show was reaching its end I thought to myself how great it was that the program had not included my all time least favorite anthem of forced patriotic sentiment, "Proud to be an American," by Lee Greenwood. But, alas, the penultimate number was, you guessed it, "Proud to be an American."
If tomorrow all the things were gone I'd worked for all my life,Arrrggghhh!
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife.
I'd thank my lucky stars to be living here today,
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away.
And I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.
It brought my thoughts back to the protesters in Murrieta. I'm pretty sure that this would be their favorite patriotic song, perhaps only trumped by the "Star Spangled Banner."
So when we got home I opened a beer and turned on the news. There was more on the Murrieta story and I couldn't help but reflect on the stark contrasts of the day. The cynical way the Mayor stirred up the fear of the citizens of his city and how the protesters used the American flag to say get lost. How different was the sentiment and symbolism of the flag waving here at home. The positive, welcoming messages and the celebration of inclusion, rather than exclusion, embodied in our parade, and probably most parades around the country, are what patriotism is really about. What a shame that a few soured souls in Murrieta chose to rain on our parade.