As Americans celebrate America this week, it bears noting that America is worth celebrating—something in other years that perhaps didn’t need to be said.
To be sure, this 4th of July hits at a moment that feels especially fraught, like we’re in the midst of a great national unravelling that pushes us further apart from each other and from what many of us love about this country. Yes, it is a maddening time to be American, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. And yes, it’s hard to know what to do.
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But, actually, we do know what to do: We embrace America by embracing good citizenship—by practicing citizenship, an act of patriotism you have to keep in shape if you want to keep it alive. That means being good stewards of our neighborhoods, helping each other thrive, helping our communities thrive, looking to our immediate left and right—at the local—to shape the country we want to live in.
It was Philadelphia where our country was formed nearly 250 years ago; it can be Philadelphia that ensures it remains strong for another 250 years. It can be you. After all, as Van Jones noted in GQ magazine in 2016, right after the election: “The good people—there’s more of us than there are of them.”
- So what can you, good people of Philadelphia, do for the country we launched?You can help refugees, here and abroad: Philly-based NeedsList lets you provide much-needed items—like shoes, diapers and SIM cards—directly to refugees in European camps, through an online purchasing system similar to a crowdfunding site. You can also supply gift cards for children released from detention in the U.S., or volunteer to help Philadelphia-area refugees with childcare, navigating the city, or getting to appointments. (The group has already more than filled its call for volunteer mental health services.)
- You can keep voting. Even if it feels like you are the ONLY ONE doing it, you have to keep doing it because the only way to ensure our urban values matter to our elected officials is by being urban voters.
- You can get others to vote. Independence Day is the perfect time to launch or plan your own voter registration drive. (It’s even part of Wawa Welcome America festivities this year.) HeadCount, a nonpartisan organization that works with musicians to promote democracy, put out this guide to get you started. And they should know: They claim to have registered 500,000 voters since 2004, including some 5,000 during March for Our Lives rallies in March.
- You can tell the truth about immigrants: Both documented and undocumented immigrants make communities safer, and immigrants are good for the economy.
- You can also call for real immigration reform that is practical, effective, humane and has limits. Congress has been at this for decades; it’s about time they figured it out.
We embrace America by embracing good citizenship—by practicing citizenship, an act of patriotism you have to keep in shape if you want to keep it alive.
- You can encourage young people. They have wowed this year—just March for our Lives alone—and they are not going away. Listen to the stories from their world, in Philly Young Playwrights’ podcast, read them at Lorene Cary’s Safe Kids Stories, seek out the heroes—like the Muslim high school basketball player who fought for her right to play ball in a hijab—who give hope to the future of America.
- You can push for well-rounded civics education in schools. The decline in civic participation coincides with the decline in learning about our civil systems—one reason state lawmakers this month voted for a mandatory civics test before high school graduation.
- You can volunteer your time. Not just because people, schools and other organizations need all the help they can get. But also because volunteering gives back to you; it provides community with like-minded do-gooders, lets you feel like you’re making your world better and has tangible consequences: A better city for the less fortunate is better for you and yours. Need help figuring out what to do? We can help with that.
- You can shop local so your neighbors succeed in their businesses and your environment is protected. You can create a local business that is good for people, planet and profits. (We have an event coming up to help with that.)
- You can pick a side, but also work to understand the other side. Not just because it might change your or anyone else’s mind, or because it will make a better America. But because understanding how and why other people vote how they do, live how they do, perceive the world how they do can make your politics, life and perceptions smarter and more on point. That’s what New York-based Better Angels seeks to do by bringing together people from both sides of the aisle. Look for its forays into Philly this summer and fall.
- You can take a break, enjoy a hot dog and a beer this 4th of July. That’s ok, and necessary—and a privilege. Privilege is ok, too, if you’re working to spread it around.
You can volunteer your time. Not just because people, schools and other organizations need all the help they can get. But also because volunteering gives back to you.
- You can help support immigrants: Former refugee and ROAR for Good founder Yasmine Mustafa offered some ideas after the presidential election which are still valid today, from patronizing immigrant-owned restaurants, to intervening when you see someone being harassed to donating to service organizations.
- You can focus on the small things: The free farmers market outside the library in Fairhill. The young people organizing rallies and voter drives. The guy who cuts homeless people’s hair for free on Broad Street—and the fellow barber who gifted him his own shop. The coders who get together to help cure cancer, or to otherwise wield technology for good. The woman who sent 450 kids to see Black Panther. And you can tell us about other Philadelphians doing good for their community, so we can spread the word.
- You can vote for women in upcoming elections. But also, applaud the hard work of women in the #MeToo movement in the last year. That work—starting with The New York Times’ expose on Harvey Weinstein—has had pretty stunning and hopefully long-lasting effects, from Hollywood to businesses to sports. Pay attention, and work to make it easier for women in your workplace.
You can—it bears repeating—vote. Otherwise, what was the point of Thomas Jefferson’s grand declaration in 1776 anyway?
- You can support the work of journalists, who are literally under attack. It’s no accident that The Washington Post’s tagline now reads “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” It does, which is why national news organizations are more necessary than ever—and thriving, rather than failing. Darkness also hides behaviors: There were rumors about Weinstein for years before The Times was able to get his victims on the record. Locally, the Philly school district flubbed and postponed much-needed repairs to dangerous buildings until The Inquirer’s deep dive into the health hazards students face. You can donate to the Committee to Protect Journalists, support independent media like The Citizen, or just read.
- You can tell our elected officials to wake up and focus on what matters. Why don’t we have a citywide effort to get people to the polls, like they do in New York?
- You can—it bears repeating—vote. Otherwise, what was the point of Thomas Jefferson’s grand declaration in 1776 anyway?