As Rhode Islanders celebrate the Fourth of July, political worries fill the air

·4 min read

BRISTOL – As Americans celebrate 246 years of these United States, angry divisions seem as much on display this year as patriotic bunting.

In the days leading up to the Fourth of July, a split U.S. Supreme Court revoked women’s constitutional right to abortion, eased control over the carrying of loaded guns and limited regulation of fossil fuel emissions – watershed decisions igniting both public outrage and triumphant joy.

In Boston on Saturday, masked members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front marched along the Freedom Trail that marks Revolutionary War sites. In Providence on Sunday, the entertainment nonprofit AS220 hosted a music festival titled: The F--- the Fourth Fest.

Festival organizers said the provocative title was a denunciation of the Declaration of Independence, which had birthed a nation that consolidated “wealth and power through genocide, slavery, theft and cultural erasure, leaving wounds so deep that today they threaten to rip its constituent myths to shreds.”

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Disheartened by disunity

Under the night skies of exploding fireworks and along parade routes like Bristol’s, home to one of the nation’s oldest Independence Day celebrations, the fragmentation of America seemed to be on many people’s worried minds.

“I can’t remember it this bad even during all the dissension of the Vietnam War,” said 79-year-old George Gerrard on Sunday evening as he sat on the slopping grass outside Cumberland High School waiting for the shower of fireworks to begin.

Beyond the divisive issues addressed by the Supreme Court, Gerrard, a political independent (“I support whoever can best serve the country in a meaningful way’’) rattled off a host of other concerns: inflation, the nation’s astronomical debt, a nonsensical energy policy that now has energy-rich America looking to buy oil from Venezuela … and Kamala Harris.

Just imagine, Gerrard said, if President Joe Biden can’t finish out his term during this precarious moment in history: “We’ll have Miss Giggles. All she does is smile and giggle about everything.”

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To some, the rift begins at the top

A possible solution for all the ugly discord? “We have to get elected officials ... that worry about this country first, before anything else," said Gerrard.

A Frisbee toss away, Debra and Mike Cournoyer, of Cumberland, were enjoying a few snacks before the fireworks show and sharing Gerrard’s concerns that much of the nation's divisiveness can be blamed on politicians who practice it daily without remorse.

It’s as if members of Congress have all sworn an oath to their political parties instead of loyalty to their country, said Debra Cournoyer, 54,

“Whether they are a Democrat or a Republican, none of them will cross party lines, even if they don’t believe what they’re saying,” she said. “It’s so frustrating. It should be what’s good for the country.”

“We need new people, with new ideas” and more courage, she said, which is why she supports congressional term limits.

Sitting nearby, Brittany Jacques, 35, admitted being anxious about the country's future, worried about the polarization of ideas and the ramifications of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Before I had the twins, I had a miscarriage and a D&C” – a medical procedure to remove tissue from inside a woman’s uterus. “Now that could be illegal.”

States like Rhode Island and Massachusetts have moved to protect a woman’s right to an abortion. “I hope others will, too,” she said.

Crowds line the route for Bristol’s 237th Fourth of July Parade.
Crowds line the route for Bristol’s 237th Fourth of July Parade.

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By 8 a.m. Monday in Bristol, Libby Baril, 58, and several friends had already claimed their usual spot along Hope Street for the passing parade.

The problem with America today, Baril said, is “no one listens to each other anymore. There’s no middle ground. We used to be able to talk to each other.”

She wasn’t optimistic things would change soon for the better. Her suggestion?

“We need to implode.”

Was she sounding revolutionary simply because this was the anniversary day of independence?

No, she said. “We need to stop and start all over again.”

A block away, however, Stephanie Heavey-Pascoe had decided on another path.

“I’m choosing joy,” said the 38-year-old accountant from Bristol. “You can be fixated on all the negative, but is there anything that is defined by a single thing?

“Oh, I’m nervous, I’m concerned,” she said. “Being a Christian and a woman in this country, I have a lot of mixed emotions. But if you let the negative and the evil win, you are just giving up. I’m going to take the opportunity to help people in my community and hope others do the same.

“I’m certainly not looking to move to Canada or anywhere else.”

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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: A nation divided is on minds around RI, Bristol 4th of July parade