A few days ago, we all marked the Fourth of July — a holiday that has a rhythm all its own, punctuated by staccato bursts of firecrackers and the sizzle of the grill, and in normal times, the laughter of friends gathered together.
But as with everything else about 2020, July 4 was different this year on Vashon.
The holiday, of course, came on the heels of nationwide and local protests over systemic and structural racism in our country. For many, that has meant a deep dive into our nation’s history, and with that, a re-examination of how to best love a country where liberty and justice have never been equal for all.
Of course, July 4 also dawned in the midst of a worsening pandemic, with numbers of COVID-19 cases rising exponentially in many states. In Washington, a record-high number of new cases — 716 — was recorded two days prior to July 4.
And so, the holiday had to shift to something new on Vashon.
Instead of a huge fireworks display over Quartermaster Harbor that started at dusk, there was a homespun car parade in the bright light of the morning, organized by the Vashon Chamber of Commerce. Dozens of cars and trucks representing island businesses and organizations circled the island, and all you had to do was walk to the end of your driveway to cheer and wave as the parade passed by.
It felt safe, fun and festive, so much so that some islanders even said they hoped it would become an annual tradition. But it also seemed patriotic, in the best and truest sense of the word, in that it made visible the organizations and people working on behalf of others in our community.
A shiny fire truck led the parade, reminding us of the brave first responders we hold in trust to help us in this great hour of need. Then came a car representing our Emergency Operations Center, which has so remarkably provided us with the leadership, information and resources we need during this public health crisis. To call the tireless volunteers who run the EOC and VashonBePrepared heroic is an understatement.
There was a car representing The DOVE Project, an organization dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable among us. Mik Kuhlman Productions was there with its giant puppet of a nose and nasal swab — a reminder that Vashon’s robust program of free testing for residents has garnered national attention. Zero Waste Vashon and the Whole Vashon Catalog were there too, to promote stewardship of our fragile island ecosystem. Of course, Voice of Vashon was there, too, as were our unofficial mayoral candidates who are competing to raise funds for worthy local nonprofits.
So as it turned out, the parade — as a substitute for a huge fireworks show — was pretty great. Better than the spectacle of “bombs bursting in air” over Quartermaster Harbor, we saw a display of compassion, care, self-sacrifice and community. And isn’t that what we’ve been told so often that our country is all about?
Of course, Vashon is just one tiny slice of America. And later in the night, the town did explode with the sound of private fireworks — more than we remember hearing in past years. But in other places, unfortunately, others stuck to their script of an even more dangerous and combative version of America.
Most distressingly, on July 3 and July 4, President Trump saw fit — in the midst of a pandemic of a highly contagious disease that has claimed the lives of almost 130,000 Americans in only four months — to hold not one, not two, but three large gatherings, first at Mt. Rushmore, then on the White House lawn, then on the National Mall.
The coronavirus must have been licking its chops.
For Trump, there seems to be no sense of shame that his presidency has overseen the worst response on earth to COVID-19. As other countries re-open and recover, ours has been left far behind — so much so that the European Union has now banned all travelers from this nation.
So what is left? For us, perhaps, just staying sensible and community-minded on our island home is enough for now. Thinking small and living local has never seemed a bigger virtue.
And unfortunately, in this upside-down year, it still remains true that the best way we can show love and compassion to our fellow islanders is to not gather with them in large numbers. We need to kiss a lot of old traditions goodbye, for now, and come up with new ones — such as having a funky car parade to celebrate independence as well as interdependence.
Because if we are true patriots, and if we believe there is any greatness left in our country or any greatness yet to come, it’s up to us to prove it with our actions now.