Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Best Fourth of July? Bicentennial Year:1976!

Burgers and dogs on the grill? Sparklers and fireworks? Marching bands and anthems? Whatever. Doesn't hold an exploding Roman candle to the fervid fun I had on July 4, 1976.

It was the bicentennial year and our great nation was celebrating its 200th birthday. I spent the day marching and whooping it up with hundreds of other activists at a rally in Philadelphia.

What was I wearing for that near-riotous event? Thank you for wondering!

I was wearing a strappy little t-shirt (without a bra, of course), shorts, and WAC surplus boots crew socks. The hair on my head was, oh, maybe a half-inch long all over, much shorter than hair anywhere else because I hadn't shaved anything for years; doing so would have revealed my deference to patriarchy.

Earlier that morning I'd boarded a bus in New York City with an otherwise unlikely coalition of Black Power-ish types, white socialist feminists, and Leftist labor activists.* And while we didn't exactly join together in singing "One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall," we did manage to get along during the bumpy ride down to Philly.

We were united in our outrage about being oppressed which, for many of us, involved being oppressed by graduate school requirements, student loans, and working multiple jobs to avoid living with our parents. We were united in our ability to pile words like, "deconstruct," "hermeneutic," "hegemony" and "discourse" into the same sentence.

Upon our arrival at the City of Brotherly Love, we were greeted by a line of police dressed in full riot gear -- helmets, body armor, automatic assault rifles, hand guns, nightsticks, tear gas cannisters. Snipers on every roof along our parade route. Not visible but undoubtedly there: FBI and intelligence officers.

Somewhat scary at the time and now a very fond memory because those were the days when activists managed to be furious and fun.

In a rage we shouted ourselves hoarse chanting, "Two, four, six, eight...smash the family, church, and State."  We waved banners and signs with slogans like "Free Amerika" and "Get Your Laws OFF My Body."

We did all this while within the ranks we'd get the giggles over stuff that included but was not limited to delight in the certain knowledge that we'd end up on an Enemies List in some state or federal file.

Such simple happy days of outrage.

Much has changed since then. Today I'll go to an afternoon movie, eat a burger, and watch whatever fireworks I can see from my condo balcony. But I'll still consider 1976 the best fourth of July celebration ever. I'm getting all misty-eyed at the memory of protesting the failed promises of liberty and justice for all.

*Why gay rights activists didn't/wouldn't participate is another interesting slice of life from the 1970s.