Happy 4th of July – Bring on the Punk

Street Art, New York City

Street Art, New York City

What are we celebrating this July 4th?

“The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment for promoting human happiness.” 
– George Washington, January 9, 1790

The great American “experiment” that is marked in the United States on each July 4th began in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence.

“The flames kindled on the 4th of July, 1776, have spread across too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume the engines and all who work them.”
– Thomas Jefferson, September 12, 1821

Fast forward a couple hundred years to today and take a visual and musical journey, beginning in the late 1970’s thru the 1990’s and to today – and let’s attempt to answer the question, “What are we really celebrating this year in 2017?”

The street art photographed above was for sale outside of MOCA in New York City last month. As I stopped to take it in, the play button for a particular soundtrack started up in my mind… it begins with the Sex Pistols and ends with the Dead Kennedys : )

The following Sex Pistols video has them singing their version of “God Save the Queen” in 1978. The timing was leading up to the very conservative years of Thatcher (prime minister in the U.K. from ’79 to ’90) and Reagan (president of the U.S. from ’81 – ’89). Anarchy and shock was what the Sex Pistols traded in – and many disenfranchised youth on both sides of the pond responded. They stomped, yelled and moshed in a call for nothing less than the Decline of the Western Civilization.

But as I zeroed in on the street art in New York, it was front and center who was wearing the Burger King crown today, and it wasn’t Thatcher or Reagan. The art reminded me of a poem I wrote a few months ago on (would-be) dictators…

Street Art, New York City, June 2017

Street Art, New York City, June 2017

Yesterday, The NewsHour on PBS reported on The Rundown that the Fourth of July brings mixed feelings for some minorities in the U.S..

“Since the 2014 police shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, officer shootings — of black males in particular — have drawn scrutiny, sparking protests nationwide. Few officers ever face charges, and convictions are rare. Despite video, suburban St. Paul, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted last month in the shooting of Philando Castile, a black man. The 32-year-old school cafeteria worker was killed during a traffic stop (on) July 6, almost a year ago.
“Justice apparently doesn’t apply to all people,” said filmmaker Chris Phillips, who saw the protests that roiled his town for weeks following Brown’s death. His yet-unreleased documentary Ferguson 365 focuses on the Brown shooting and its aftermath. “A lot of people have lost hope.””

So another flashback, this one from 1990, Public Enemy – Fight the Power.

Continuing from the PBS article, “Patricia Montes, a Boston resident and immigrant from Honduras, said she’s grateful for the opportunities and security the United States has given her. Yet this year, she doesn’t know how to approach the Fourth of July holiday.”

People from across the U.S. aren’t happy about the “other-ing” of immigrants and refugees. Unless we are Native American, didn’t we all start in the U.S. the same way, as an immigrant or refugee? Here’s a bit of coverage from February this year by CultureHoney.com.

Free the People Immigration March, Pershing Square, Los Angeles, CA - 2.18.17

Free the People Immigration March, Pershing Square, Los Angeles, CA – 2.18.17

Again, quoting from the PBS article, “I felt very conflicted,” said Montes, an immigrant advocate. “I mean, what are we celebrating? Are we celebrating democracy?”

Montes said it pains her to see children fleeing violence get turned away and deported back to Central America without due process. She also is disturbed by recent immigration raids in Latino and Muslim communities that spark more fear and uncertainty.”

That’s the question, isn’t it? What ARE we celebrating this Fourth of July? I think that we continue to mark the hope that is America, what some call “the greatest experiment”.

Flashback hardcore encouragement from the Bad Brains: Rise, circa 1993:

Speaking of Native Americans, in the PBS article, Ruth Hopkins, a member of South Dakota’s Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, said Native Americans have always viewed the Fourth of July with ambivalence, and this year will be no different.

However, there will be celebrations.

Her Lake Traverse Indian Reservation holds an annual powwow on July 4 to honor veterans as a way to take the holiday back, she said.

“Also, a lot of people up here use fireworks and the holiday to celebrate victory over Custer for Victory Day,” said Hopkins, referring to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse defeating George Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Still, the holiday comes after tribes and others gathered in North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its fight against the pipeline. Because of that, water and land rights remain on peoples’ mind, Hopkins said.

Gyasi Ross, a member of Montana’s Blackfeet Nation and a writer who lives on the Port Madison Indian Reservation near Seattle, said all the tensions this Fourth of July are a blessing because it has awakened a consciousness among people of color. “The gloves are off,” Ross said. “We can’t ignore these things anymore.”

Jean Michel Basquiat, Philistines.-1982

Jean Michel Basquiat, Philistines.-1982

The piece above from Jean Michel Basquiat speaks to me of a time of great fervor and raw emotions. In these times that are being described by one Pasadena City College professor as “The New Civil Rights Movement“, I feel the electric tremors revving up, coming again…

One last salvo from Dead Kennedys, offered here as a tool for American self-reflection this Fourth of July:

Kill the Poor – Dead Kennedys

Efficiency and progress is ours once more
Now that we have the Neutron bomb
It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done
Away with excess enemy
But no less value to property
No sense in war but perfect sense at home
The sun beams down on a brand new day
No more welfare tax to pay
Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
Jobless millions whisked away
At last we have more room to play
All systems go to kill the poor tonight
Gonna kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor tonight
Behold the sparkle of champagne
The crime rate’s gone, feel free again
Oh, life’s a breeze with you, Miss Lily White
Jane Fonda on the screen today
Convinced the liberals it’s okay
So let’s get dressed and dance away the night
While they kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor tonight
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor tonight
Behold the sparkle of champagne
The crime rate’s gone, feel free again
Oh, life’s a breeze with you, Miss Lily White
Jane Fonda on the screen today
Convinced the liberals it’s okay
So let’s get dressed and dance away the night
While they kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor tonight
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor tonight
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor
Kill kill kill kill kill the poor tonight
Songwriters: East Bay Ray / Jello Biafra
Kill the Poor lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

*