Every year, my town celebrates the birth of the first country to be founded on the explicit ideal of liberty by erecting steel barriers. Would I make this up? Would anyone? Does anyone have the imagination? The barriers -which must cost a bit to rent and set up – are placed around the main beaches. The main purpose, I am told by a cop, is to filter evening beach-goers so that fireworks don’t get through. Makes sense; you wouldn’t want to take the risk that the sand of the beach will catch fire from ill-used fireworks!
In the couple of weeks preceding, bright orange posters bloomed all over town, warning of “triples fines” for those who transgress the municipal ordinance prohibiting all fireworks. That’s triple $500, up to $1500 per item. You have to really love fireworks to brave this kind of criminal penalty. Or, maybe, there is an other explanation. (See below.) I hold one of the orange signs in one of my scofflaw hands as I write. (Documentation matters.) In the week preceding the Fourth, the Police Chief and, I think, the Fire Chief went on local radio to warn and threaten. The current drought conditions figured high in their declarations. Keep this detail in mind.
The town is Santa Cruz, California. It’s a town worth observing. Like Berkeley, also in California, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, it’s one of a handful of towns that act as windows on what liberals want to do when they have uncontested power. Santa Cruz has been under the control of Leftist-liberal coalitions for about thirty years. The city has chased away almost all employers. The big campus of the University of California is the one remaining large employer. I don’t expect much political relief from there. It’s the same university from which Communist icon Angela Davis retired recently. She held the university Chair of the History of Consciousness (N.S.!) The students are all more or less revolutionaries although many demonstrate their revolutionary consciousness only by becoming LUGS (“lesbian until graduation”) because having sex with men is like giving succor to the enemy; it’s a collaborationist act. (But don’t worry, most eventually marry, marry men, shortly after graduating).
This Fourth of July, I celebrate with my family, immigrants all minus one (my granddaughter is US-born). We have a quiet a barbecue on my yacht harbor dock, next to my boat. The Harbor Patrol, normally dedicated to saving from the cold Pacific Ocean imprudent, drunken, or simply unlucky boaters, is now patrolling (appropriately given its name) up and down the harbor in its military-style large, black, inflatable with the super-charged outboard motor. The nearby land is crawling with police personnel in varied uniforms. All nearby agencies have been drafted to combat the impending peril of fireworks thus, the different uniforms. Some are khaki uniforms, bringing back bad memories for me. Some drive around all-terrain vehicles. This is how military occupation must feel like. Some or most of those guys are on time-and-a-half or on double pay. We are a fairly poor town – where few workers earn even $10/hour – with a rich police.
Near 9 pm, it’s dusk, and we leave the harbor in my the boat as we did in years past. We do so to optimize the chance that my little granddaughter will see some fireworks, fired perhaps from other towns, or by Santa Cruz own renegades. A few hundred yards out on the Monterey Bay is the best, the most central location to take in the fireworks that might still happen thanks to what I expect to be a handful of lawbreakers willing to take the risk of police repression. I have a bad feeling that there will be hardly any. I am preparing mentally an explanation that will console my granddaughter’s six-year old mind. It’s windy and cold out there. We only see four or five desultory rockets in fifteen minutes. I am turning the boat back toward the harbor entrance.
And then, the miracles happens. It’s 9:15, and fully dark. All of a sudden, there are dozens and then, more fireworks of all shapes and color. Even out here at sea, the noise is nearly deafening. It’s a firework of fireworks! The show goes on on all three sides of the bay. (On the fourth side is Japan; it’s not close.) A miracle has happened. Our fellow Americans are celebrating Independence Day by noisily declaring their independence from the local authorities. I feel bad that I doubted them for a while. I reproach myself for my lack of faith. It’s all good. My six-year old granddaughter declares happily, “I have never seen so many fireworks in all my life !” My wife, my daughter and I all agree there are more fireworks this Fourth of July than in years past.
I have lacked faith elsewhere too. My younger fellow citizens were not cowed by threats. Many braved the super fines promised by the city because they knew that at that level of penalty, they could demand a jury trial. They made the bet that few juries, even in Radlib Santa Cruz, would vote for a big fine as punishment merely for setting off fireworks. When I think about it, I agree with them. Americans just won’t submit meekly, won’t surrender.
The next day, the local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, has nothing to say about the fireworks in Santa Cruz proper, nothing, not even the number of criminals arrested by the massive deployment of police officers. The local paper is to the City Council as the national press is currently to the Obama Administration: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything!
My sources on the inside tell me that one lone person was arrested for an open booze container (and a bad attitude). There was not a single arrest for illegal fireworks, not one!
Correction on July8th: There were actually four (4) felony arrests. That’s for a local population of about 40,000 enlarged by at least half as many visitors, say 60,000 total. Any normal weekend beats this low figure, I would bet. There were hundreds of police officers about. Either, the police deployment had a near-perfect dissuasive effect or the law enforcement productivity was so low that in any other industry, the managers would be “resigned.” The abundance of theoretically forbidden fireworks set off tells me that the dissuasion explanation is probably not the right one.
The Fourth of July parade takes place on Sunday 6th of July. It’s scheduled for 9 am. Santa Cruz is a university town. No one much rises before 10 even when the students are away on a break. (Where do you go for a “break” when you live near the beach, in Santa Cruz? Beats me!) The early hour constitutes a modest effort, a small ruse to hold a patriotic event while pretending not to do so.
Someone has thrown an old shoe on the monument to Santa Cruzans who fought in wars. It’s a large size shoe. The A..-H… who did it was an adult.
The beginning of the parade is made up of various ragged “progressive” group carrying silly streamers. They demonstrate their democratic spirit by wearing their ordinary street clothes – a low standard in Santa Cruz any day – even though it’s Sunday. I half expect to see a marching group of Young Pioneers in their bright red kerchiefs, or a martial detachment of Obama Youth. It’s not going to happen; learning to march requires too much effort, too much self-discipline, fortunately
The parade closes at 10 am sharp with a large Catholic Portuguese-American organization composed of local groups coming from faraway. It includes a marching band that actually marches in good order. The Portuguese Catholics easily steal the show. Rather than Independence Day, they are actually celebrating the birthday of Saint Isabella, a saint who fed the poor. You can bet every single one of the hundreds of marchers is solidly pro-life. The City would like to un-invite them but it dares not. “Portuguese-American,” with its hyphen, sounds vaguely ethnic after all. And although the marchers look white, you don’t know, they might be some kind of Hispanics. They might be cleverly camouflaged “people of color.” You can’t be too careful.
Your story is trivial, you say; and serious adults don’t care much for fireworks, you say, and parades are mostly childish. And the fire danger associated with drought conditions amply justifies restrictions on fireworks. Yes, maybe, except that the nearby town of Scotts Valley, surrounded by forests and dried-out meadows managed somehow to offer a respectable fireworks show. It was professionally managed which sure limits fire damage. The town is much smaller than Santa Cruz, yet somehow, it can afford a fireworks show. Its city council is not liberal, incidentally. Maybe that’s related. And the town of Watsonville, to the south, about the same size as Santa Cruz also had an official fireworks display and little by way of ban on private fireworks. Watsonville is much poorer than Santa Cruz and its city council is notoriously corrupt but it’s not especially liberal. And two thirds of its population are Hispanics. That number undoubtedly include many immigrants, people who are not sophisticated enough to feel contempt for the storied founding of this country.
So much for the fire danger. I think my story is not trivial because I have actually read the Declaration of Independence, several times. It says in its second paragraph that all men (that includes women) possess unalienable rights, rights that cannot be taken away by government no matter what. Only three of those rights are explicitly listed: life and liberty, of course, but the third is “the pursuit of happiness.” It sounds vague but, it’s not. It means: “Whatever floats your boat.” There is a subtle but forceful issue of burden of proof involved: The government may not insouciantly restrict you from doing whatever floats your boat. Strong, overwhelming compelling reasons are required. And the “pursuit of happiness” does not mean only the search for sublime symphonic performances, it does not mean only such elegant things as the translation of antique Chinese manuscripts, or the daily practice of yoga, or anything tasteful. It includes squarely drinking and whoring, for example, and fireworks. The burden of proof regarding what is permissible rests squarely with it, the government, not with us, the citizens.
Showing fireworks to my grandchild floats my boat, even floats it a lot. Forbidding this traditional Independence Day activity infringes on my constitutional rights. It’s an infringement imposed mindlessly by people who mostly don’t understand the Constitution, people with a dangerously simplistic view of democracy. When liberals and other leftists are in power they treat the rights of political minorities as if the US Constitution did not exist. Here, with fireworks, it’s at the local level. If you think they become more respectful of our political tradition when they get their hands on an army and a navy, and spy agencies, think again. Or read the newspaper. (This is July 2014.)
Lest I be unclear, let me add that the pursuit of happiness does not cover imaginary “rights” such as the “right” to health care, or the “right’ to fresh pizza, or the “right” to enjoy safe sex at one’s neighbor’s expense. I am much in favor of sex in general and of safe sex in particular. Abundant sex makes people kinder, I suspect strongly. When done right, it’s inexpensive and healthy, excellent recreation all around. People should pay for their own recreational expenses however, such as my pleasure boat and their borking. See my essay on his blog: