Much appreciation to everyone who sent messages of congratulations as we celebrated this year’s Fourth of July, marking the 244th anniversary of the founding of the United States. In case you missed it, here are the links to our virtual celebration and the text of my remarks is below.
Hello and welcome to our virtual celebration marking the 244th anniversary of U.S. independence. Throughout the day we will post several more videos featuring our alumni and some of the American musical acts that have performed in Armenia in past years. We will even conclude with a fireworks show! So, stay tuned throughout the day!
These are challenging times as we are all fighting COVID-19 and seeking to keep our citizens, communities, friends, and families safe and healthy. I am grateful to the Foreign Minister for his virtual presence and remarks at our celebration. I also greatly appreciate the good wishes of our colleagues in government, civil society, U.S. exchange program alumni, the business community, and so many Armenian citizens. These messages underscore the breadth and strength of the U.S.-Armenian relations. We are proud of this partnership and what we are accomplishing together even in the face of a global pandemic to support the Armenian people’s call for reform.
Many understand the Fourth of July as a day to celebrate America’s independence with parties, speeches, cake, and fireworks – which it is. But it is also about much more than that. The Fourth of July is a day to remember the ideals upon which the United States of America was founded and for Americans to re-dedicate themselves to the difficult work of making sure all citizens can experience those ideals. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “For our own success to be real, it must contribute to the success of others.”
The American story of democracy is both inspirational and aspirational. On this day 244 years ago, the Declaration of Independence boldly proclaimed the “self-evident” truths guiding the American experiment: that all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A few years later, the Constitution of the United States enshrined the fundamental rights to be enjoyed by the people and protected by the government in pursuit of a “more perfect union.” These principles and rights echoed well beyond the United States, creating a blueprint for a world worth building and serving as a timeless reminder of the ideals we strive for.
The American story of democracy is one of principles, but it is also one of struggle – in particular, the struggle to ensure equal rights and justice for all Americans. In this pursuit, we have often fallen short. This year, Independence Day is occurring in the shadow of the senseless killing of George Floyd and too many other African-Americans – and against this backdrop, there are widespread largely peaceful protests calling for an end to systemic racism. As we celebrate the 244th year of American independence, we must remember that the enslavement of over a half a million black Americans at the founding of our nation created a bitter and enduring legacy of racial discrimination.
American history is filled with the stories of struggle and progress as we have wrestled with this terrible legacy and as we have sought to hold ourselves and our government accountable to our ideals and the principle of equal rights and justice for all. As the great statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass put it so clearly, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”
What is clear today in 2020 is that the struggle to uphold the basic promise of equal rights and equal treatment for all Americans is not over. We still have work to do to move towards that “more perfect union” outlined in the Constitution. This is a responsibility shared by all citizens in a democracy – it is “We the People” who must do the work. This responsibility – to participate, to engage, to use our voices, to strive for better, and to take action – is shared among young and old alike in democracies around the world. Indeed, we saw the people of Armenia seize this responsibility two years ago, peacefully taking to the streets to hold their government accountable. And we support their quest today as Armenians continue the vital work of charting a democratic course for their country.
In the United States, we are blessed that new generations of Americans have always stood ready to shoulder the responsibility of building a “more perfect union.” The eloquent words of Rosa Parks, a heroine of the Civil Rights movement, remind us that, “We are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.” These are words by which we can re-dedicate ourselves today on the 244th anniversary of American independence to upholding and more perfectly realizing the most fundamental ideal of our democracy that all people are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Let me close by wishing a Happy Fourth of July to our American citizens and our colleagues and friends across Armenia who are celebrating with us today!