The fireworks over Yachats Bay and Alsea Bay rival those I’ve seen anywhere. One of my favorite memories is our first Fourth of July here at the coast. People walking by scattered as my then 8-year-old ran by, calling out, “Fire in the hole!” We laughed at the disappointing fizzle and smoke that followed. When the show started, he shouted, “Happy birthday, America!” People cheered.
I love the festive holiday crowds typical of Fourth of July, everyone celebrating something we all have in common — our country. With the annual events cancelled this year, my teenager set off his usual array of mild explosions with his dad in front of our house. The louder booms of bottle rockets, Roman candles and fire crackers, though illegal and prohibited in Oregon, echoed all weekend.
My social media was filled with people chastising those setting them off. There was, as well, scorn for those objecting — many expressing a right to celebrate freedom on this day, especially here, where historically, such events are common during the Fourth of July weekend.
As the nation came out of quarantine, and although the governor’s order restricting non-essential travel was still in effect, many came here to celebrate freedom and independence.
We aren’t in complete agreement on who is permitted to enjoy which freedoms. Are we, as Americans, free, in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, to shoot off mortars on the beach?
Are we free to take a vacation right now? To drive from, say, the coast to the valley or the mountains for the weekend? The governor’s order does not appear to be being enforced.
Are we free to do as we please in public spaces? What about private businesses? Must we wear a face covering to guard against spread of COVID-19 as mandated? With law enforcement, like most state and local agencies, short-staffed and facing unprecedented challenges, those not wearing masks are unlikely to be challenged.
Are we free to camp on the beach, park our RVs on waysides? To let our dogs run free? Leave our trash? Hunt at fish at will?
We are not, though some do. All of these are regulated by law or ordinance.
“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” reads the Declaration of Independence.
This is important. While it was written 244 years ago addressing grievances to the King of England, it applies to all levels of our democratic government. Many of our individual freedoms are afforded us by our government, the government getting it’s power from our consent, our acceptance of laws and norms.
Imagine if everyone, not just the entitled few, camped in Yachats Bay, or wherever and whenever they wanted, or if we all shot off bottle rockets last weekend. Imagine if we all don’t wear masks.
“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness,” the document continues.
While our country was born in revolution against oppression, its strength and effectiveness comes from our consent to be governed. We are free, not to violate its laws, but to change them.
Our vote gives us the opportunity to choose those who govern, legislate and apply the law. We are free to participate in that government, even to reject it, if necessary. But only together do we hold that power.