WASHINGTON - Washington D.C. celebrated Independence Day Monday with some hallmarks of the nation’s capital: parades, festivals and protests.
This year, the Fourth of July signifies for many a return to normalcy as virtual events have given way to in-person experiences. It also falls in the shadow of monumental Supreme Court rulings on abortion, guns and the environment that have Americans concerned about the country’s future.
Protesters, dressed in red, white and blue, massed in front of the Supreme Court Monday to denounce the overturning of Roe v. Wade, while other pro-choice demonstrators descended on the National Mall. Around 100 green-clad abortion rights protesters marched down Constitution Avenue, spreading out to span the width of the street.
“They’re counting on us to get tired, they’re counting on us to get complacent,” said Ashli Timmons, 21, of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. “Hopefully, everyone will see this and be inspired.”
Some demonstrators took to the highways to air their grievances. About 20 people sat in the road and blocked all lanes of Interstate 495′s inner loop at the U.S. 29/Colesville Road exit Monday afternoon. Maryland State Police said the demonstrators were protesting climate change and were disbanded within hours.
In a separate protest, a group of truckers calling itself the 1776 Restoration Movement, formerly known as the People’s Convoy, blocked traffic on I-95 to denounce vaccine mandates. D.C. police warned of heavy traffic along inbound 395 from Virginia into the District because of the convoy.
Ahead of the Fourth, D.C. police told travelers to prepare for road closures as more events returned to the city. Transit authorities also warned that reduced service on the Metro would likely result in long lines and hour-long waits in stations near the Mall after the fireworks.
People ventured out into the city as events, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and A Capitol Fourth concert, reopened to the public after more than two years of coronavirus restrictions.
The National Independence Day Parade returned with marching bands from around the country, military units, floats and balloons.
Neha Sri drove down early from Delaware with her son Naman, 11, so they’d have time to get a good spot in front of the National Archives - and set up folding chairs and a rainbow umbrella to beat the heat.
“It’s our first time we’ve come here,” Neha said. “We’ve heard a lot about this parade so we wanted to see.”
They’re staying for the fireworks, but Naman is most excited about the events in the National Archive. He pointed excitedly to the day’s schedule, listed on a bright red souvenir fan - a scavenger hunt, and a chance to sign a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Trinisa Fung, 21, and Alessandra Del Rosario, 21, sat along a stone wall by the entrance to the Smithsonian, waving American flags. The two college students met this summer at an internship and spent their day off at their first Fourth of July parade in D.C. Fung had been to fireworks shows back home in Houston, but nothing as big as this.
“This is different,” Fung said as floats, cultural performances and marching bands streamed by on constitution Avenue. “The diversity here is really amazing.”
Del Rosario, from Las Vegas, agreed but said that “the humidity is still something I’m getting used to!” They’ve got a lot on their bucket list for the summer - the Capitol, the Library of Congress, “the most touristy spots” - and they plan to watch the fireworks from the Iwo Jima Memorial with more friends.
“It feels like the city’s coming back to life,” Fung said.
Kelly Silva, 38, sat in the grove of trees overlooking the Washington Monument in the late afternoon, watching over a picnic blanket and a box of chicken wings. Silva, who lives in DC and normally brings her family to watch the July 4 fireworks every year, said she’s “happy because everything’s coming back to normal.”
“It looked like everyone was scared two years ago, but now everybody’s back,” Silva said.
Silva added she felt safe despite just hearing the news of the shooting in Illinois. A gunman opened fire on Fourth of July paradegoers in a Chicago suburb Monday, killing at least six people and sending another two dozen to the hospital.
“Hopefully it won’t happen [here] this year,” she said. “I see a lot of officers around.”
Silva’s two children were playing in the nearby National Museum of African American History, but she’ll save their picnic spot under the trees until her family gathers in the evening. It’s right in front of the monument and the night’s fireworks display.
“We can laugh and celebrate like before,” Silva said.
Takoma Park, which has held Fourth of July festivities for 133 years, welcomed residents back for its first in-person parade since 2019.
“It’s a wonderful feeling being back,” said Tara Marie Egan, a 37-year-old Takoma Park native. “People have missed it and we have a lot of new groups joining.”
Egan herself once marched in the parade as a Girl Scout and is now the vice president of the Takoma Park Independence Day Committee. She has been planning for this since January. The 1.3-mile parade, dubbed Takoma Park Together Again this year, includes marching bands, drill teams, floats, art cars, costumed characters and veterans groups.
In a city known for its political activism, the recent Supreme Court rulings were top of mind for some at the Takoma Park parade.
“It’s great to celebrate our independence today, but it’s a bittersweet feeling with women’s rights being eroded,” said Laurie-Ann Sayles, who is running for the Gaithersburg County Council at-large seat. “I’m concerned about the direction of our country and I want to make sure we safeguard a woman’s right to choose.”
In a nod to the nation’s ideal as a beacon of hope, George Washington’s Mount Vernon hosted its annual naturalization ceremony Monday. A crowd of 50 immigrants - from Cameroon to Ukraine - cheered and waved American flags as they became citizens. When they rose to sing the national anthem this time it resonated with them differently.
With her right hand over her heart, Keisha Alfred, 41, sang the anthem for the first time. “I’m no longer an immigrant or as they say a visitor,” said Alfred, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago.
After 20 years of living as a student and a green cardholder, Alfred said she can finally leave the immigration paperwork behind every time a company tries to hire her. Becoming a citizen in this political time feels bittersweet, especially now that abortion rights are threatened, she said.
“I’m very proud to become an American citizen, but I feel an added responsibility to make sure that we are represented.”
With her citizenship certificate in her hand, Alfred and another dozen new citizens registered to vote on the spot. “I have to make sure that my voice is heard,” said Alfred.
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The Washington Post’s Terence McArdle contributed to this report.