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What an Independence Day Float Can Teach Us About Freedom

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Jung-Pang Wu via Getty Images

You all heard it (or read it in your Facebook feeds) over the Fourth of July weekend -- celebratory exclamations about what it means to live in America, land of the free. We gathered with family and friends, lit off fireworks and watched parades to commemorate the day nearly 240 years ago when the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress.

You also probably saw that in one particular Nebraska parade, a float depicting President Obama in overalls outside an outhouse titled the "Obama Presidential Library" has stirred up controversy.

Commentary is split on the issue, with some calling the parade's float racist and abhorrent and others likening the audience favorite to a political cartoon.

It may be true that the float's intentions were satirical like an editorial cartoon. It may also be true that it was the most popular float in the parade. But what is certainly true is that even something with jovial intentions can have destructive results.

The float became more than just a partisan jab at the other side of the political sphere. It became a racist demonstration -- intentional or not -- that pitted the "land of the free" America we were in the midst of celebrating against the president of the United States.

Now, I understand (and am grateful) that one of the liberties that comes with living in this country is the freedom of speech -- whether that speech be a float mocking the president or a blog post reflecting on it. I am beyond appreciative for that freedom and recognize the rights of others to use it to express their opinions, even when I disagree with them. But just because we have the right to do something doesn't mean we should do it.

This float, whether it meant to or not, did something more than just make a satirical political stance. On a day that was meant to be celebrating liberties, the float reminded us of the freedom not everyone had -- including the freedom our current president may not have had -- the day the declaration was signed.

Take it from Frederick Douglass, an African-American abolitionist, who said it best in his Independence Day speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July," which he presented in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852.

"I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me."

Slavery was abolished 13 years after Douglass' speech, and we've certainly made some significant strides as a nation in extending America's freedoms to be more inclusive since then. But the float depicting an overalls-clad Obama standing beside an outhouse was just another demonstration that we still have a long way to go.

Whether you agree with the president's politics or not, this float was bigger than a disagreement with someone's ideologies. It implied that our nation's first black president is not fully included with the glorious anniversary of our country's liberty, that there is still an immeasurable distance between him and the people of the United States and that he does not share in the same justice, liberty, prosperity and independence given to our nation by the forefathers who signed the declaration all those years ago.

One of the people responsible for organizing the parade, Rick Konopasek, defended the float, noting it won an honorable mention in the parade. "It's obvious the majority of the community liked it," Konopasek said. "So should we deny the 95 percent of those that liked it their rights, just for the 5 percent of people who are upset?"

Well, Konopasek, what would have happened to slavery if the same logic had applied back in Douglass' time? If 95 percent of people like something, does it matter that the other 5 percent are upset? For the sake of America, land of the free, I hope it does.