When I was a kid, celebrating the Fourth of July was simple.
In the morning, my family would drive to our cabin and spend hours grilling hamburgers while blasting country music on our ancient stereo. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would arrive throughout the day, bringing along the other necessities: apple pies, s’mores supplies and sparklers. Then we’d all bedeck ourselves in ridiculously patriotic accessories. My favorite was a clunky plastic necklace that lit up, alternating flashes of red, white and blue.
At night, we’d head down to the beach and start a bonfire in the sand. Neighbors to our left and right would set off fireworks over the water. The folks on the other side of the lake would answer back with their own pyrotechnics, until it became a contest to see whose fireworks were louder, bigger, brighter.
But that’s all the Fourth ever was for me: a fireworks competition. I was young. I didn’t understand what it really meant to celebrate the country’s independence.
That is, until the 2016 presidential election.
Now, by no means was the 2016 election the craziest one we’ve ever had. (The election of 1800, for instance, ultimately caused a literal gunfight between the vice president and his rival.) Nonetheless, last year’s election was exhausting, no matter which side you were on.
For months on end, it seemed that every TV sitcom was interrupted by a campaign advertisement; every family dinner or night out with friends was punctuated by a political argument. Tensions ran high. Many people, myself included, feared the country wouldn’t survive.
But we did. Against all odds, the country is still here.
And every morning, we all get up and interact with people who are different from us in some way. Despite our disagreements, every single one of us has one thing in common: we care. We all want to do right by our country, and make it a better place for future generations. That’s why elections are so dramatic—we all just have different ideas about how to bring about that bright future.
Yes, elections can certainly be tiring. I learned that last year. But I also learned that having the right to vote for the leader of the country is a great gift. That’s what our founding fathers fought for. And that’s what they won, when they declared our independence on July 4th, 1776.
Like a delicious hamburger, our democracy is multilayered, complicated, and a little messy. But we’re Americans. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!
Jenna Russell is a summer intern at the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development. She is a senior at Oakland University.