By Sara Steffens
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Somehow, this year, the Fourth of July stands for so much more than just grilling hot dogs and enjoying fireworks.
We find ourselves thinking, instead, about what it means to be American. About the bedrock guarantees of freedom and equality that make this country a wonderful place to live. And about the sacrifices so many have made to preserve our way of life.
So this year, we want to celebrate the nation's birthday by finding at least one way, however small, to keep things rolling. Want to do the same? Then here's 50 suggestions.
1. Re-read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. All three can be found online at
2. Talk to children about why you love America.
3. Write to a service member. Though many military pen-pal programs were suspended after last fall's anthrax scares, a secure, private Web site is now available to collect and forward messages from the public. Go to
4. Plan a block party. Get to know your neighbors.
5. Visit a national monument this summer, and drink in our country's rich history and natural wonder. Try the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore.
6. Brush up on geography, including the state capitals.
7. Adopt a bald eagle. Call the American Eagle Foundation, which is working to save these endangered birds, at 800-2EAGLES, or go to
8. Give blood, to ensure that a safe reserve remains available to hospitals and the military. Call the Red Cross at 800-GIVE-LIFE.
9. Recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Whether to include the "Under God" part is up to you.""
10. Fly a flag, but be sure to observe proper etiquette. Take flags down at sunset unless illuminated, and retire old, tattered flags through a burning ceremony. More details have been posted online by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Go to
and click on "Your Town," then "Flag Etiquette."
11. Take someone out to the ballgame. Baseball remains, after all, the American pastime.
12. Collect oral histories for the Library of Congress, which aims to chronicle the lives of as many war veterans as possible. For details, call 888-371-5848 or go to
13. Keep America beautiful. Pick up litter in parks and on the street.
14. Join the Peace Corps. Become one of America's unofficial ambassadors.
15. Contribute to a Sept. 11-related charity, such as the Twin Towers Orphans Fund,
16. Donate to a nonprofit group that serves everyday Americans, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs -
_ or your local food bank.
17. Tutor at-risk kids. What could be more patriotic than preparing the next generation to lead the nation? To get started, inquire at your local public school.
18. Learn about new Americans from generations past - and maybe research your own family history - at
19. Memorize the words to the national anthem.
20. Help build the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. To make a donation or request information, call 800-639-4WW2, or go to
21. Buy American.
22. Help immigrants learn English and adjust to American life, by volunteering to tutor them in English.
23. See your country in a new way through the eyes of a Ken Burns documentary. "Jazz," "Baseball," "The Civil War" and other epics are now available on video and DVD.
24. Stay abreast of world events, and America's response to them, by following international news coverage.
25. Check up on democracy. Drop by a meeting of your city council, school board, or county supervisors.
26. Pay your taxes. It's your duty as a citizen.
27. Watch "The American Experience," which airs most Sunday nights on PBS. Check your local listings.
28. Get active in party politics.
29. Read a presidential biography. A few worth looking into: "No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt," by Doris Kearns Goodwin; "John Adams" by David McCullough; and "Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson," by Robert A. Caro (Knopf, $35; the hefty third installment of a multi-volume biography).
30. Travel overseas. Nothing makes you appreciate the United States more than returning home from a long trip abroad.
31. Help meet the security needs of our post-Sept. 11 society. Ask about becoming a volunteer at your local police or fire department.
32. Pursue happiness. Blowing bubbles at the office is a great way to start.
33. Virtually visit the White House at
34. Consider running for office. Democracy depends on the leadership of ordinary citizens like yourself. To get started, contact the elections department in the county where you live.
35. Research the founding fathers. Any public librarian can suggest good sources.
36. Smile at a stranger on the street. Say hello, even.
37. Offer a ride to someone who might not otherwise get to see the fireworks tonight.
38. Monitor the voting records of your local, state and federal representatives.
39. Report for jury duty, without trying any lame excuses to get sent home.
40. Watch a patriotic movie. We suggest "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" or "The American President."
41. Dye your hair red, white or blue.
42. Become a citizen soldier. Find out about National Guard service by calling 800-GO-GUARD, or visiting
43. Exercise your right to free speech. Write a letter to the editor about an issue you care about strongly.
44. Mail $1 to help the children of Afghanistan. The address is: America's Fund for Afghan Children, c/o The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington DC 20509-1600.
45. Thank a veteran for his or her service to our country.
46. Review the structure and history of our government by enjoying those classic `70s "Schoolhouse Rock" segments. "America Rock" can be found on CD and videotape at local libraries.
47. Visit patients in Veterans Administration hospitals and nursing homes. To find out more, call the volunteer department of your local VA center.
48. Register to vote. Forms are available at local Post Offices, libraries, the Department of Motor Vehicles and city offices.
49. Cast a ballot. And that means on every election day, not just the big ones.
50. Be grateful. Remember: you're lucky to live here.
© 2002, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.