“I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love. That’s what I see. That’s the America I know!” ~ Barack Obama
I struggle to find the balance between loving my country and actively working to right the wrongs of our collective history.
My little community in the suburbs of Los Angeles has started flying the American flag in preparation for July 4th celebrations.
As a child, I remember seeing these flags raised on lamp posts and front porches letting me know summer was officially here and the biggest party of the year would be happening soon. Independence Day meant backyard barbecues, family gatherings, and sparkly fireworks displays lighting up the sky in sync to musical traditions like “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” We would all stand proudly with our hand over our heart as we watched this spectacle, filling us with pride.
Fast forward to my late teens and early college years. Watergate and Vietnam dominated the news cycles and that flag started showing up in a different way for me. Iconic scenes from Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix draping the flag over his shoulders as he played “The Star Spangled Banner” and pretty girls in bikinis patterned with the stars and stripes graced the covers of Life Magazine. Protests and riots were happening every day and Americans burned our flag in the streets to express dissent for the war and the politics that were ripping our country apart.
I knew then that I was against war and corruption but still held onto the naive hope that America and its flag stood for honor, freedom, and independence for all of its citizens. Although I understood the anger behind those flag burnings, I still held onto the pride and reverence that our flag stood for.
The Vietnam War ended and the tragic loss of a reported 58,200 American soldiers was the price that was paid for this unpopular conflict. Jimi Hendrix died of an overdose way too soon. The country collectively moved on.
My personal grown-up world grabbed all my attention and the flag became just a symbol: while not forgotten, it was definitely delegated to party decorations and 4th of July T-shirts.
Then MAGA happened and the flag was confiscated as its symbol and rallying cry.
Not the little flags on sticks we are all accustomed to waving during patriotic parades, but larger-than-life ones that these self-proclaimed patriots flew from their monster trucks, hung on their porches, and displayed on their business windows so that all would know where they stood in the current political climate.
These flags filled me with fear and apprehension. I began to believe that the flag and those who raised it represented hate and prejudice and a desire to limit or take away the hard fought for rights of particular United States citizens. I found myself walking on the opposite side of the street if I noticed one of these gigantic flags flying over a house. I would change lanes on the freeway to avoid being near the big truck with its flag flapping and its gun rack clearly visible. I avoided shopping at businesses that displayed it in their storefronts.
This flag, which had always been a symbol of hope for me, was now a repellent, warning me to avoid engaging with anyone carrying it.
It is now 2022. My belief—perhaps just a hope; time will tell—is that these far-right radicals and their hijacking of our flag will soon fade into history and just become another moment in time that historians will have to wrestle with the meaning and significance of, much like Watergate and the Vietnam war.
As our nation struggles to heal the divisions caused in the last few years and find ways to both hold those accountable and move on, it is my hope that we can also take back and restore the meaning of Old Glory, create new traditions to honor her, and fly her proudly as a strong symbol of freedom and justice for all.
She was always meant to be revered, seen as a symbol of the Great American Experiment, an image of hope for what is possible. It is my vision that as we all gather this Independence Day—many of us for the first time in quite a while—eating hot dogs, waving as the fire engines pass by during our small town parades, and ending the night with a fireworks display accompanied by the oohs and ahs of children seeing this magical event for the first time. It is my vision that we all stand and face that flagpole during the playing of our national anthem, that our hearts swell in a collective pride for our country and the possibilities of an equitable future for all, and that we can restore our flag to its rightful place as a beacon of hope for all nations.
We have done it before. We will do it again.