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The Meaning of Independence Day

A message from CWA President Claude Cummings, Jr.

I have always enjoyed Independence Day. It’s wonderful to gather with friends and family for a cookout and to watch as my kids - and now my grandkids - ooh and ahh over the fireworks and maybe set off a few themselves. I welcome the chance to reflect on the ideals that led to the founding of our country and our history of struggle as we have sought to live up to those ideals.

This year Independence Day has a heaviness to it. The system of government that our nation’s founders put in place was meant to ensure that no one is above the law, yet a majority on the Supreme Court has turned that on its head, giving one person - the President - a literal “get out of jail free” card for even the most serious violations of our laws and our Constitution.

That would be dangerous in any circumstance, but it is a grievous threat in the hands of Donald Trump, who has shown complete disregard for the law throughout his business and political careers and has repeatedly said that he intends to use the military as a domestic police force and the federal government as a tool for a campaign of retribution against his perceived enemies.

Over the past week, I have heard from many who have all but given up. They say that there is nothing we can do and that a descent into dictatorship and demagoguery is inevitable.

We must not give up.

This is a photo of my father’s poll tax receipt. Black people who wanted to exercise that most basic right had to pay $1.50 in 1947 to be able to vote. I keep this as a reminder of where we’ve been and where we can never go back to again.

Image of a poll tax receipt from 1947.

At our country’s founding nearly 250 years ago, the right to vote was limited to white male landowners and my ancestors were enslaved. But Americans had the tools they needed to fight injustice and expand opportunity - the free press, the right to engage in collective action, and the vote itself.

My wife, Ruth, is from Selma, and I often think about what was going through the minds of the men and women who were gathered in the homes and churches the night before they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, on what is now known as Bloody Sunday. They knew what they were about to face. They understood the violence that was about to be unleashed on them. They did not know if they would survive the day. But they did it anyway. Not for themselves, but for future generations. For us.

Your vote and the votes of your co-workers, your family members, and your friends are powerful and they have been paid for in blood. I, along with thousands of CWA members and retirees, will be doing everything we can between now and election day to turn out the vote to continue the progress we have made with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and to elect pro-worker candidates for the U.S. House and Senate.

Independence Day wasn’t an end. It was the beginning of a struggle over the meaning of equality and the cost of freedom. Let’s recommit ourselves to struggle together for a brighter future.