Saturday, August 05, 2023

Can the Fourth of July be an occasion to celebrate, not dread?

In recent years, for way too many people, the Fourth of July has become an occasion of dread, not celebration.  That's a shame for the holiday that is meant to celebrate the best of this country's aspirations. The cause? Out-of-control fireworks and guns going off in residential neighborhoods and the seeming inability of the City to do anything about it.

The reigniting of the municipal fireworks in much of Texas and the nation was a result of celebrating the Bicentennial in 1976.  That national celebration reintroduced large scale fireworks to a nation who largely thought of them as fire crackers and bottle rockets.

Texas went big for the Bicentennial but with many local projects instead of one big state celebration. According to D Magazine, "In all there were 810 projects throughout the state. Among them were 102 new museums, 146 oral history projects, 387 tree-planting projects, 105 new parks, 14 medical facilities, 85 preservations, 227 restorations, 302 historical publications, 66 cookbooks, 195 flagpoles, 41 gazebos, and 90 time capsules."

The Bicentennial culminated on Sunday, July 4, 1976, with the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.


It was an exciting time in the United States. Women and African Americans were making visible strides toward full equality under the law.

Barbara Jordon became the first African American to keynote a national political convention at the Democratic National Convention and Clifford Alexander Jr. became the first African American to be Secretary of the U. S. Army. On July 6, the first class of women at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis is inducted. Barbara Walters hosted the final presidential debate.

In other news, Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent president Gerald Ford, and two new companies, Apple Computer and Microsoft, incorporated. In Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is not inherently cruel or unusual and is a constitutionally acceptable form of punishment. A tiny 14-year-old Romanian named Nadia Comaneci scored a historic perfect 10 on the uneven bars at the Montreal Olympics and snagged three gold medals.

The Viking 1 landed successfully on Mars and began sending back color photos of the planet's surface, including the famous Face on Mars photo. 

                                                       THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1976

On the Fourth itself, the arrival of the Tall Ships in New York Harbor was all over television.

Fort Worth put on a parade in which the local chapter of the National Organization for Women had a float featuring women in American history. It was decorated with a huge head of Liberty carved by our own Nancy Lamb. I was State Representative Chris Miller on the float.

And that night, there was a huge fireworks show down by the Trinity River. Prior to this, big municipal fireworks shows weren't really a thing in Texas. People might set off a few fire crackers, but mostly the Fourth was family cookouts, trips to the lake, and swim parties.

But since 1976, municipal firework shows have become an annual event in Fort Worth and most other Texas cities.


However, a sad and ugly corollary has been the steady increase in individuals setting off fireworks in residential neighborhoods, which is illegal in Fort Worth and other cities. Last year, my East Side neighborhood sounded like a war zone for five nights in a row, with commercial grade fireworks being set off in the cul de sac behind my house. These explosions went on well into the early morning hours. The police were largely ineffective.

Aside from the danger of setting houses on fire, the impact of all these explosions on veterans and pets is horrific. My dogs and cat hate it, and shutting us all the bedroom with music, the tv, and a white noise machine does little to mask to the noise. Add to the cacophony the idiots who shoot off guns all night and it's a wonder people aren't killed. I have a neighbor who is a veteran and he leaves the city every year to go to a friend's hunting cabin because all the explosions trigger his PTSD so badly that he can't function.

One result of the city allowing this to get so out of control has been the number of people who have begun to really really dislike fireworks. I know of so many who have moved from loving the excitement and the beauty of that show in 1976 to a deep dread of and dislike for the Fourth and all the accompanying uproar.

So this year, the City of Fort Worth raised the fine for illegal fireworks to $2000.00 and posted this information on signs throughout the city. It seems to have had a impact. While the police still didn't show up when we called them, and it still sounded like a war zone on the Fourth, the nights leading up to and after the Fourth were much quieter.


But there is hope that virtual light shows and drones might overtake fireworks in popularity.

In Seattle the New Year of 2021 was run in at the Space Needle with a stunning visual display developed by a Seattle entrepreneur.

And drone shows are amazingly lovely.

This new development of having shows put on using drones or virtual light shows offers hope for a new way to celebrate without the noise and the danger. Of course, for way too many people, the noise and the danger is part of the appeal of fireworks.

But one can still hope that the quiet beauty of the drones may win out over the bombastic fireworks. My hope is that the City of Fort Worth will adopt the drones or a virtual light show for the annual Fourth of July show and let the fireworks die in the dust.

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