DC trades politics for pageantry on July 4th holiday
The Washington Post July 4, 2023
America turned 247 years old Tuesday and revelers marked the birthday across the Washington region with pomp, pageantry, parades and parties — and the promise of plenty of fireworks to come. The mood was celebratory and upbeat and mostly free of the rancor that has dominated so much of the conversation about America's politics and prospects over the past few years. Many expressed hope that a more harmonious existence is in the country's near future, but the optimism was cautious.
The rain that soaked the capital overnight abated by morning. Skies cleared. And the sun shone brightly at 9:30 as General George Washington inspected the troops at Mount Vernon, an unofficial start to the day's festivities. Military music played through speakers and more than 30 soldiers carrying muskets and wearing tricorn hats and meticulously tailored Revolutionary War era uniforms stood at attention as Washington, portrayed by Dan Shippey, walked past them.
Among the hundred or so visitors watching the ceremony was Andrea Hoskin, 63, accompanied by her daughter, son-in-law, and four grandchildren. "I wanted to see the location that George Washington lived at and dreamt about our nation and fought for our nation," she said. A retired history teacher who comes from a military family, Hoskin said she hoped her grandchildren would make the connection to the nation's past.
"Military is in our blood. Fighting for our nation is in our blood and seeing our history is in our blood," she said.
The event was a precursor for the swearing-in of new citizens at the home of the nation's first president.
Rehema Milka Nyamuhindu, a 19-year-old from the Republic of Congo, moved to the United States at the age of five and now lives in northern Virginia. She was one of the 90 people from 53 countries at the ceremony to become new citizens of the United States.
Nyamuhindu said she knew the ceremony would take place on the holiday, but had no idea it would be treated with such pomp and circumstance.
"It's great to be able to finally relax for a little bit because I have my citizenship," she said. "I truly feel like I can do anything — well, not anything, but definitely have more freedom."
The event featured live music and a special appearance by George Washington, who delivered a speech to the new citizens and guests. "Welcome home, my fellow Americans," he said, as the crowd cheered and the new citizens waved mini American flags.
"It means a lot to me," said Henry Paa Kwesi Williams, a 23-year-old from Ghana who joined the Army in 2022 and celebrated his official citizenship Tuesday. "Like they say, America is the land of the free and I'm going to take this opportunity to make a good life out of it. And I also believe America has a great future ahead because of [the] strong foundation it was built on."
On Capitol Hill, Susan Fournier wore a Washington Nationals shirt, a white hat with a red, white and blue sash and earrings to match as she stood on the sidewalk of Eighth Street SE with hundreds of people and pets waiting for the Capitol Hill Community Fourth of July parade to pass by. Fournier, 71, has attended the neighborhood parade for decades, but this year's installment was special. It was the first time her grandson would march in it as a member of the local Boy Scout troop. "We're all just really excited," she said.
Brooke Lawson, 19, has been coming to the Capitol Hill parade since she was an infant. As a youngster, she focused on grabbing the candy tossed to kids by people on floats. As she's grown older, she said, the event has become a way for her family to bond. On Tuesday, Lawson was at the parade with her mother, Ingrid Bynum, an elementary school principal in Virginia.
Lawson and her mother found a shady spot on Eighth Street to watch as Eastern High School's marching band, dancers and drum line powered up the street. A sea of Labradoodles, some wearing American flag bandannas, also passed by with their obedient owners in tow. Lawson said her favorite though, was Tinkus Bolivia USA, a group that performs traditional dances from Bolivia and has become a mainstay of the Capitol Hill parade.
The celebratory and inclusive morning vibe is something Lawson said she hoped can be replicated across the nation.
"Getting to see the community come together for an event like this is nice, so I wish that was something we could do as a country, politically," Lawson said.
By early afternoon, temperatures had reached the high 80s and the traditional holiday was greeted with traditional Washington humidity as the National Independence Day Parade made its way down Constitution Avenue near the National Mall. The sound of drums and horns permeated the air in front of the National Museum of History, where a large crowd stood along both sides of the street. A float draped in red, white and blue glided down Constitution as characters portraying Abraham Lincoln and Founding Fathers waved to the crowd.
Alana Prewitt, 27, wore a blue maxi dress as she held a blue umbrella to match, protecting her from the sun. Prewitt and her husband, David, brought their daughter Riley, who is a year old to experience the parade in her stroller, parked front and center. "I'm here to celebrate the 4th of July. My husband's family is in town so we wanted to give them an experience of D.C., and just have a good time," said Prewitt, a D.C. resident.
While enjoying the festivities Prewitt, a Black woman, said her hope in America is tainted by the current climate and recent overturning of Affirmative Action. "I don't have hope," she said. "If the right people were to get in place I would, but right now, I don't."
In the future, Prewitt said she would like to see an America that exhibited togetherness, similar to the day's crowd. "I'm a Christian. I just want to see unity and peace in our country. If we had unity and peace things would be so much better," Prewitt said.