Fourth of July celebrations won’t be the same this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most cities, including Bakersfield, to cancel traditional parades, festivals and fireworks shows. Health guidelines are discouraging big family get-togethers and neighborhood parties. But 2020 celebrations will be no less meaningful.
July 4 is the time to reflect on the sacrifices America’s patriots made to create this great country and the rights we enjoy today.
The most remembered words of the Declaration of Independence are: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Those are mighty powerful words in a nation now under siege by a deadly contagious virus; with about 40 million Americans unemployed as the U.S. economy stumbles; and as the streets are filled with people protesting racial inequities.
America is strong. It has survived other trying times. The words of our nation’s founders and the institutions they created give us resiliency and commitment to the principles embraced in the Declaration of Independence.
Although the initial battles of the Revolutionary War were fought in April 1775, only the most radical of colonists advocated for complete independence from Great Britain. But by the middle of the next year, support for the cause had grown. On June 7, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, where a resolution was introduced declaring the nation’s independence.
A vote was delayed, while a five-man committee that included Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York drafted a formal statement.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare the nation’s independence. Two days later, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, which was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson. We have John Adams to thank for our annual celebration of it.
An elated Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that the occasion would be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
The first organized celebration was held in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported, “About noon, all the armed ships and gallies in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colors of the United States and streamers displayed.”
Each ship fired a 13-gun salute in honor of the 13 colonies. The celebration was capped off with “grand exhibition” of fireworks. Over the centuries, the firing of live ammunition from cannons and guns was replaced by fireworks displayed in safe community events, such as the one at The Park at Riverwalk that usually attracts about 14,000 people each year.
But the deadly spread of coronavirus and state directives to stay at home, socially distance and wear face masks resulted in the cancellation of this year’s event. People have been left to create their own celebrations.
Likely they will include backyard or street-curb amateur fireworks shows. We plead that these shows will be “safe and sane.”
Although regulations in Bakersfield and the unincorporated portions of Kern County differ slightly, most fireworks marked “safe and sane” that are sold in metropolitan Bakersfield can be fired off legally from noon July 1 through 12:30 a.m. on July 5. To protect bystanders and prevent fires, the general rule is if fireworks explode, spin, fly or otherwise leave the ground, they are illegal to use.
Since May, both the Kern County and Bakersfield fire departments have been receiving increasing calls reporting the use of dangerous and illegal fireworks. Both departments have increased enforcement, with teams from the city department patrolling in unmarked cars. Call the Bakersfield Fire Department at 324-6551 or 324-4542 to report illegal fireworks use in the city. Go to www.Kerncountyfire.org to report illegal fireworks use in the county.
First-time citations for illegal fireworks use result in a $1,500 fine, with a second violation a $2,000 fine and a third violation a $2,500 fine, according to the Kern County Fire Department.