Phill Courtney

Another night, another round of these inconsiderate boneheads in Redlands setting off fireworks and M80s (apparently it’s happening nationwide), upsetting our dogs and disturbing the peace — sometimes well after midnight — and all a month before the Fourth!

Well, at least this year, thanks to COVID-19, my wife and I don’t have to secure the dogs during another booming display at the University of Redlands, some quarter mile away from our house on the eastside of campus.

I say “at least” about those fireworks because I’ve always had mixed emotions about them. It always seemed to me that far too often drinking beer; eating hotdogs and watching fireworks is what passes for patriotism in this country, while the recent uprisings over the killing of George Floyd reminds us again of a kind of patriotism that’s sorely lacking — and I’m not talking about marches.

What I’m referring to is the kind of patriotism that results from studying this nation’s history, the principles we should strive for, such as truth and justice, and then engaging in the slow, steady and rational work it takes to actually make those principles resonate.

I saw it first-hand in Riverside more than 20 years ago when a 19-year-old African-American woman was basically executed by four police officers when she flinched in her car (with, unfortunately, a gun in her lap) — another avoidable outcome of living in this insane “armed camp” that’s America, where we can all be blown away at a moment’s notice by a madman in a movie theater or, yes, justified or not, by fearful police officers.

After that incident I joined a group calling itself the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability (I was living in Riverside then) and we began the slow, steady and rational process of creating a citizens review board there to deal with police when they violate their own codes of conduct. It took over two years, but eventually we had our commission.

It’s sad, though, that, some 20 years later, we’re still seeing a tragic amount of fatal incidents and gunplay (both by police and citizens) and we’re still hearing the phrase “I can’t breathe” over and over again. Clearly there must be other directions we need to take in the future.

But, as I’ve always pointed out to my fellow activists, protests alone won’t do it and never have. What we need instead is an American citizenry willing to study documents such as the U.S. Constitution — not just the Second Amendment — and understand why they’re so important.

Unfortunately, although it takes sometime to read it, polls show that only one out of four adult Americans can even claim to have actually done so. While marching is easy, far fewer seem willing to engage in educating themselves and in such endeavors as the long, tedious meetings I attended in Riverside.

However, meetings don’t make for “great TV,” while protests do. But, as evidenced by a list that includes hundreds of civil uprisings throughout our long history (check out the Wikipedia entry) real “change” has never occurred by endlessly repeating the past.

Instead, this Fourth, as we’re forced to forgo the official fireworks, perhaps we could spend some time reading such documents as the Constitution and contemplating in the wake of both viruses and violence where we should go from here.

As for me, I’ll remember again the words of Adlai Stevenson, the two-time Democratic candidate for president in the 1950s, who once observed that “patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

While it’s more work than watching fireworks or eating pizza, that sort of dedication just Might Result In Some Of The Genuine Changes We So Desperately Need.

Footnote: Last month, while discussing the nightly explosions, city spokesman Carl Baker, reminded me that fireworks are illegal in Redlands and if you’re caught it’s a $1,000 fine.

Phill Courtney was twice a candidate for Congress with the Green Party and was a high school English teacher. He can be reached at: pjcourtney@earthlink.net.