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Why Americans Throw Party on Fourth of July

If you could channel John Adams, he would be very pleased to see that the nation still celebrated this event

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Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Comments It was founding father John Adams who first suggested that Americans should throw an annual party. VOA

It was founding father John Adams who first suggested that Americans should throw an annual party — a “great anniversary festival” —  to celebrate the nation’s independence from England.

In a July 3, 1776, letter to his beloved wife Abigail, America’s second president wrote, “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

“If you could channel John Adams, he would be very pleased to see that the nation still celebrated this event which he thought should be marked forever,” says Mary Beth Norton, a recently retired professor of history at Cornell University and author of a forthcoming book, 1774: The Long Year of Revolution. “Even though they’re not doing it on the day that he thought they would.”

Adams thought the nation’s independence should be celebrated on July 2. That’s when the Continental Congress, the body of delegates that governed the American colonies, actually voted for independence from England.

Americans, Party, July
Artist John Trumbull titled this painting, “The Declaration of Independence,” but it depicts a scene that never took place because the signers of the declaration never gathered in one place at the same time to sign the document. VOA

The written Declaration of Independence, the nation’s founding document, was dated July 4, 1776. However, the document wasn’t actually signed until August 2. Fifty-six delegates eventually signed, although not all at once and not all on August 2.

“People were in and out, and when they had the opportunity they came and signed it,” says Norton. “But there was no scene…of all of them sort of standing around waiting to sign a declaration.”’

The Declaration of Independence famously states that all men are created equal and that they have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The founding fathers saw women’s education as critical to the future of the fledgling republic and insisted that women, as well as men, be educated after the Revolution.

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“They basically said, ‘We need every citizen of the Republic, including women,’ even though they couldn’t vote at that point and were not going to vote for another more than 100 years, ‘we need them to be active participants in the nation. They need to know the national history because they need to teach their children,’” Norton says.

Today, the ways in which Americans celebrate the Fourth of July differ. Many will host or attend cookouts. The three most popular foods that’ll be consumed are hamburgers, barbecued meats and hotdogs, according to a recent survey conducted by TopCashBack.com.

Attending a fireworks celebration is also high on many people’s lists.

Whatever they do, 86 percent of Americans say they plan to actively celebrate Independence Day.

 

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FILE — About 60% of Americans planned to have or attend a cookout on Independence Day 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. VOA

Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, believes widespread enthusiasm for the holiday stems from the fact that Independence Day honors all Americans.

“It’s celebrating democratic institutions, principles of freedom, principles of equality,” he says. “We can all get behind that. It’s not a single religion. It’s not a single group. It honors all Americans for their participation in civic culture, beginning with a group of Americans who gathered to declare the nation to be independent based upon a set of principles that are very admirable.”

One of the most memorable Fourth of July speeches was given by Frederick Douglass, a social reformer and writer who’d escaped slavery in Maryland.

He highlighted the hypocrisy of the ideals of freedom in a country where enslaved people remained in bondage. Speaking at an Independence Day celebration on July 5, 1852, Douglass famously asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

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“He basically says, ‘Yeah, this is about freedom and that doesn’t pertain to us in this country,’” says Grossman, adding that Douglass pointed out, “the distance between the principles enunciated in America’s founding documents and the ways in which American politics and social order had played out since the 1770s.”

Norton believes Americans should take the time this Fourth of July to reflect upon their role in ensuring America remains a republic based on the notion that people can govern themselves.

 

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An undated photo of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. VOA

“For me, it’s a day to reflect on everybody’s responsibilities to the nation, which goes far beyond the military’s responsibilities to the nation,” Norton says. “I think it’s everyone’s mutual responsibility to maintain the republic… this was something that very much concerned Adams and the other leaders of the revolution. They knew the history of the Roman Republic and how it had turned into a dictatorship.” (VOA)

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Many Americans in Small Towns Still Struggling to Access Affordable Broadband

A few years ago, the Oklahoma town of Tuttle suddenly found itself without cable or internet service

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While two dozen states have municipal broadband bans in place, a few are starting to repeal them. (T.Krug/VOA). VOA

A few years ago, the Oklahoma town of Tuttle suddenly found itself without cable or internet service after a local broadband provider went bankrupt, leaving behind unpaid bills to the power company.

“Tuttle, we believe, became the largest city in America without cable service or internet service,” said Tim Young, the town’s city manager.

Like the majority of cities in the U.S., Tuttle residents accessed broadband through private companies rather than through a city-run system. With the town of a few thousand growing quickly and attracting professionals from nearby Oklahoma City who were used to high-speed internet, Tuttle city officials began meeting with new private telecommunications companies to fill the gap.

According to Young, every one of them expressed the same concern: the population wasn’t big or dense enough to garner much of a profit.

Americans, Towns, Broadband
Kevin Beyer, general manager of Farmers, a century-old phone company, talks with Morrie, center, and Al Schacherer at the auto shop they run in Dawson, Minn., Nov. 19, 2013. Farmers laid 600 miles of fiber cable in 2011 with the help of $9.6 million in stimulus grants and loans. VOA

Scouted other networks

So Young said he and other city officials changed strategies and began taking tours of other Oklahoma cities that had set up municipal broadband networks, meaning the system was owned and operated by the town.

“We began to realize that this is something that we could do ourselves and began to go down that path,” he said, noting that no taxes or rates were increased to pay for the upstart loan provided by a local bank. “From my standpoint, I’ve been more surprised by how easy and simple it is to put the system in.”

Across the United States, many Americans in small towns and rural areas are still struggling to access affordable, quality broadband. As more and more services move online, many people are missing out on entertainment, educational, health care and professional opportunities.

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“One of the main reasons why the urban-rural disparity exists today in the private industry (is) because the big incumbent providers are naturally incentivized to build robust networks in high-density population areas, where they have a much greater chance of getting a return on their investment, versus building out a super robust network in a small town of 2,000,” said Tyler Cooper, editor at BroadbandNow, a data aggregation company based in Los Angeles.

In response to telecommunication providers’ complaints of high costs to serve more remote areas, the U.S. government has granted out hundreds of millions of dollars through bipartisan efforts to get fiber laid and more rural homes connected.

Frustrating results

The results have frustrated politicians and rural consumers alike. The digital gap remains, along with pervasive criticism that current FCC maps paint a misleading picture of how many Americans need assistance. These maps, created from self-reporting 477 forms provided by telecommunications providers, paint a picture where 21.3 million people, or 18 percent of the American population, lack access to broadband. In reality, observers of broadband access say that number is much higher.

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Chattanooga, Tenn., Mayor Andy Berke stands in front of an aerial image of Chattanooga, on the wall of his conference room, Nov. 17, 2014. Berke is a major promoter of the city’s municipal fiber optic network. VOA

“The Form 477 data allows providers to mark an entire census block as covered — potentially hundreds of homes — if even one of those homes is covered,” Cooper said.

Along with the federal government, state legislatures have attempted to tackle the digital divide, including passing legislation regulating municipal broadband. At the moment, more than two dozen states have limitations on city-run broadband — from restrictions on parameters to entire bans. While it is common in other countries for broadband to be provided through publicly owned utility services, U.S. conservatives have argued that government should play less of a role.

Arkansas, for example, passed a law in 2011 stating “a government entity may not provide, directly or indirectly, basic local exchange service.”

Earlier this year, the Arkansas Legislature unanimously voted to repeal that ban.

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“We were one of the five states that had the most restrictive laws [on municipal broadband] in the nation, and [ranked] almost last in broadband [access],” Breanne Davis, a Republican state senator and co-sponsor of the bill, told Citylab earlier this year.

Cooper, of BroadbandNow, said that municipal broadband in rural communities in Arkansas, a state where a quarter of its residents are underserved, isn’t a guaranteed solution. In some cases, it has failed. He pointed to Wireless Philadelphia, which he says collapsed under the weight of massive overhead.

“A lot of state and city municipalities are not prepared to deal with the overhead that comes from actually maintaining and holding a fiber backbone. Turns out that’s a pretty big can of worms,” Cooper said. “It’s something that definitely has risks and is not just a utopian solution to the digital divide.”

At the same time, there are a large number of municipal-run broadband networks that appear to be succeeding. In the case of Tuttle, Young, the city manager, said excess revenue is being reinvested so that more rural homes can benefit.

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Paragould, Ark., set up one of the first municipal broadband systems in the United States. (T.Krug/VOA). VOA

‘Exceeded all expectations’

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, frequently touted as a shining example of quality municipal broadband, Mayor Andy Berke said the product “exceeded all expectations.”

“I don’t think the people had a true understanding of just how successful this would be,” Berke said, crediting the high-speed connection for Chattanooga’s low unemployment rate and bustling tech and innovation economy.

Even in Arkansas, a handful of towns that set up municipal broadband ahead of the ban say they have benefited from having it.

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Marcus Dowdy, director of Broadband Services for the city of Paragould, said residents “weren’t happy” with services previously provided by a private telecommunications company. In the early 1990s, the city sought to change that. (T.Krug/VOA). VOA

Paragould, a community of about 30,000, went into the cable business in the early 1990s, eventually including broadband and going into direct competition with a major private telecommunications company in town. Eventually, the city bought out the private company’s assets.

“The citizens weren’t happy with the offerings and the prices [of the other company],” said Marcus Dowdy, director of broadband services for Paragould Light Water and Cable.

Over the years, Dowdy said more and more Arkansas communities and co-ops have expressed interest in starting the process themselves.

“[Broadband] is going to become more of a utility,” Dowdy said.

Regardless of how successful future municipal broadband networks may be, Cooper said he can’t foresee a time when every house in America — no matter how remote — is eventually connected to a fiber network. In the end, there will be a combination of technology employed.

“It’s just too big of a project. There’s too much infrastructure involved,” Cooper said. (VOA)