Published 5:00 AM EDT Sep 18, 2018
A week after the Fourth of July, I planted the stars and stripes on our front porch. Ever since, a 3x5-foot flag on a 6-foot pole has waved on Main Street in Montague, Massachusetts.
In my American town, American flags are rare. Much of western Massachusetts remains Bernie Sanders country and although the pickups that roar through my town each morning sometimes sport flags, homes generally don’t. Those charming folk art flags common in red states, with the stars and stripes painted on industrial pallets, are rarely seen here. And that’s the problem.
The American flag is not the flag of a single party or point of view. Even if it festoons every Trump rally, the flag belongs to all of us. It is the symbol of “we, the people,” and people like me, who staunchly oppose the president’s policies and behavior, should display it as proudly as his staunchest supporters.
Liberals, the flag belongs to us too
The appropriation of the flag is not the fault of those who wave it at every opportunity. liberals and progressives have the same opportunities to display and take pride in it, but have shied away from the flag, thinking it too corny, too conservative. But ceding the nation’s most enduring symbol to one party is just bad politics.
In lieu of flags, my neighbors post their sympathies by putting up signs with liberal-favored phrases. You know the ones. They proclaim "Hate has no home here," "In this house we believe health care is a human right," "Black Lives Matter" and more.
But an American flag flying from a home in Montague? In a county where Trump got 27.2 percent of the vote? It was hardly seen until I displayed my colors.
My wife was reluctant. What would the neighbors think? She only agreed to the flag when I agreed to place a sign beside it. In blue, green, and orange, it reads: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad that you are our neighbor.”
So these two symbols of our polarized country now have equal footing in our home. My hope is that the two will be seen as compatible, even complementary, but I’m afraid most passers-by just think that one Democrat and one Republican live here and that we must argue day and night.
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Still, my flag continues to fly. I also wear the flag on a T-shirt I had made, with a quote on the back: "'I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith ... all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love.' — Barack Obama."
Obama knew what all Americans should know more of — their history. This flag, the same one my wife and neighbors shy away from, is the flag that flew over the Capitol when Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act. This is the flag that flew over the Supreme Court when that body sanctioned same-sex marriage. It’s the flag Bruce Springsteen, no conservative he, plastered on the cover of “Born in the U.S.A..” It’s the flag Jasper Johns has painted again and again, and it’s the flag — the only flag — on the moon.
There was a time was when Americans of all political stripes — and some historical stars — claimed the flag.
In 1912, when immigrants in Lawrence, Massachusetts, walked off their mill jobs seeking better pay, they paraded behind an American flag. A half-century later, Civil Rights marchers from Selma, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi, marched behind flags. Even the anti-war activist Abbie Hoffman understood that, dissent being patriotic, the flag was his as much as anyone else’s.
What does the American flag stand for?
Fifty years ago this fall, Hoffman was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He wore a favorite shirt, fashioned from the stars and stripes. Guards ripped the shirt off him. He was arrested and convicted for defiling the flag, but his conviction was overturned.
That decision was as American as apple pie, because this flag belongs to all Americans who claim it. And more Americans, regardless of their politics, should engage in what Hoffman and his allies called “capture the flag.”
My flag flies out front. And I ask my fellow Americans, especially those who do NOT support this administration: Where’s yours?
Bruce Watson is the creator of the online magazine The Attic. He is also the author of "Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy."