I was driving to school a few days ago when I saw two large trucks traveling ahead of me with large American flags waving proudly in the wind. When I got nearer to the trucks, I was not surprised to see Trump stickers stamped in the center of their back bumpers. I was instantly reminded of the years following 9/11 and on through the heaviest years of the war in Iraq.
My first memory was that of the unity displayed following the attacks which brought down the World Trade Center towers, lodged a gaping hole in the Pentagon, and instantly moved our collective awareness into a new era. During that period, flags popped up all over – on cars, in windows, on trees, on lapels. As a nation, we collectively decided that we were together in our grief, our anger, and in our response. Flag sales spiked higher than ever before.
My next memory was from the days leading up to and in the midst of the Iraq War. Flags became the symbol of support for the war. I was not one of them. I saw it happening. I saw one side of a major issue – one that was more based on political ideology than matters of peace and war should ever be – take ownership of a symbol that belongs to all of us. Waving the flag illustrated that you believed in the war and questioned the patriotism of anyone who dared to take issue with the motivations or the application of it. You stood by George W. Bush without debate. There were moments when it bothered me that those of us on the left ceded our flag, a banner representing freedoms and dignities we hold dear, to one side of an issue. It was and is our damned flag too!
Returning to today, I fear we may be returning to that division. We may be returning to an environment where you are a patriot to stand with the current administration – the incoming Trump Administration – and will wave the flag for all of its glory and history. Anything less is unpatriotic of even um-American.
I want to qualify what I am about to say next by stating that I have a strong belief that asking permission or for social acceptance for the proper and inoffensive form of protest is not a protest at all, but a meaningless social transaction. I’m not sure I would ever express myself by stepping on or burning the flag, but I strongly support the right of those who do. This is a symbol heavily linked to freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. Many of those who protest in this way are saying quite forcefully that they do not believe they are enjoying the same level of those freedoms, that the opportunities which should be available to them are not. To many, this form of protest is abhorrent…but it gets your attention. If you are more worried about the fabric of a flag than the fabric of our system, please reconsider what you believe that flag stands for. Protest is meant to grab your attention. Unfortunately, too many focus on the act rather than the motivations behind it. Not enough people look at the act and consider what could be so distressing to a person burning the flag that they believe this is how they must respond to get some attention placed on their plight.
This gets me to my point: as much as burning the flag makes a statement, it also serves to reinforce my previous observation – the idea that the flag belongs to one ideology. I want to suggest that we not allow that to happen this time. The flag and all that it symbolizes should not again be ceded to those who will seek to enforce a biased sense of patriotism based on an adherence to their worldview. The flag, like our country, belongs to all of us. The freedoms and sense of dignity our founding fathers – while not perfect in living those values – conceived of, these principles are the property of all, not of a single ideology.
By all means, burn the flag if this is how you need to make your statement. Want to make an even stronger statement? Own that flag and all that comes with it! Wave it as you protest! Wave it as you march through the streets demanding that your rights not be trampled on. Wave it as you question policies that seek to divide us against one another. Don’t let your oppressors once again take it and let it only serve to symbolize their perspective. Wave it like it is yours. It is!