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Philadelphians have used Independence Day as an opportunity to speak out against injustice for centuries. In 1844, Irish Catholic residents rallied for equal treatment. In 2013, people gathered to decry the NSA snooping on its own citizens.
Amid nationwide calls for racial justice and the growing Black Lives Matter movement, Philly’s holiday will be extra active this year. That’s true despite the annual Party on the Parkway being canceled due to the pandemic, as there are several Fourth of July protests planned in the region.
Here’s where the demonstrations are going down on July 4, 2020 — with masks and social distancing strongly recommended — and why activists say they’re taking to the streets.
To honor fallen ancestors
What: Fists for the Fallen
Where: 30th Street Station
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Saturday at noon, hundreds of activists are expected to raise red-painted fists for 9 whole minutes. The collective action is meant to honor the life of George Floyd, the man who was killed by Minneapolis police when an officer kneeled on his neck for that length of time.
The ceremony, set to start at 30th Street Station and march to City Hall, is also meant to honor all the Black people who have died due to racism in the United States.
“Historically, as an African American, it’s been a bittersweet experience to celebrate a freedom you never fully felt accepted into,” said Omo Aiye, a South Jersey resident helping organize the protest. “It’s an amalgamation of many years of oppression.”
Co-organizer Ash’raka Juel, echoed the idea that the Fourth of July feels like a celebration of slavery and racial oppresion.
“The holiday itself is enshrined in the Constitution, and it took 100 years after that before Indigenous and melanated Black people in this country were allowed to have their own physical freedom,” Juel, said. “Economic, social and mental enslavement still continued. Segregation still continued.”
To fight for Black trans lives
What: Black Trans Assembly for Abolition
Where: Front and Chestnut streets
When: 2 to 5 p.m.
With the recent murder of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells fresh on their minds, Philadelphia officials recently called violence against Black trans people an “epidemic.” Overbrook resident Deej McCoy is organizing a Fourth of July protest against the continuation of the troubling pattern.
To McCoy, this holiday feels better spent speaking out against injustice than trying to catch a fireworks show. “We wanted to choose a day that is like a cornerstone of white supremacy.”
The holiday never really resonated for them anyway. It always felt like a day off, a chance for a family barbecue — but as a Black trans person, they never actually felt included in the celebration.
“This holiday wasn’t meant for me,” McCoy said. “Yes, we got our independence from England, but they still had slaves. Slavery was still very active on July 4th, 1776, so like, it wasn’t Independence Day for us.”
To free Mumia Abu-Jamal
What: Protest Police Terror
Where: Outside the Municipal Services Building
When: 12 to 3 p.m.
American independence isn’t what Pam Africa thinks about on the Fourth of July. Instead, she remembers Mumia Abu-Jamal’s first-degree murder conviction — which was handed down on July 3, 1982. For her, the holiday is filled with sorrow.
A leader in the MOVE activist group, Africa has been fighting for decades to overturn Abu-Jamal’s conviction on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.
The group has been protesting his imprisonment for years each Independence Day — and this year will be no different, with the action scheduled to take place in the plaza that until recently was home to a controversial statue of former Philly Mayor Frank Rizzo.
“On July Fourth you all want to go home and party,” Africa said. “Not without us crashing the party. No way in the world we’ll allow anything to go down in this city and not protest.”
To kick Trump out of office
What: Speak out! No Fascist USA — Trump/Pence Out Now!
Where: Dilworth Park
When: 6 to 9 p.m.
Sam Goldman’s definitely not celebrating America this year. An organizer with Refuse Fascism Philly, she helped plan an evening protest outside City Hall that has one ultimate goal: to overthrow President Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence.
In Goldman’s eyes, white supremacy will always exist as long as Trump is in office. That’s why she’ll spend the holiday fighting back.
“What July Fourth means is coming into stark relief,” Goldman said. “With the righteous protests that have been in the streets now, many people are confronting the roots of America — the genocide, the slavery, the confederacy, Jim Crow.
“It’s a beautiful thing that so many protests are planned,” she added. “People’s power is in the streets.”
To kick off the We Charge Genocide ’21’ campaign
What: 4th of July “NO MORE LIES” We Stand As One in Philly & the World
Where: President’s House on Independence Mall (aka the Memorial to the Enslaved Africans in the Presidential Household)
When: 12 to 4 p.m.
Organized by: A Million Black Women Rising
To show support for Black Lives Matter
What: Black Lives Matter March
Where: Pusey Park, Collingdale, Pa.
When: 11 a.m.
Organized by: Delco Resists
Know a Fourth of July protest in Philly that we missed? Email us.