Monday, May 9, 2011

Folding the Flag

Folding the flag is taking care of the nation.
Folding the flag is putting it to bed for the night.
I'm falling through a hole in the flag...
--lyrics from the 1968 Broadway musical "Hair"

When word broke a week ago that Osama bin Ladin had been killed, a demonstration broke out across from the White House.

Cool. Ever since back in '68, we haven't been able to get very close to the White House. It may have been during the Vietnam War demonstrations that some of the barriers went in. We couldn't have mobs getting too close to the seat of power where they might actually be heard.

After 9/11, things really became hardened. Barriers in front of U.S. Courthouses across the land. You know about all the airport stuff. Kids today don't even know that at one time, a non-passenger could walk right up the airport concourse and actually greet arriving passengers as they stepped off the jetway into the terminal. Or walk with them and give them an embrace and goodbye kiss just before they boarded the big bird.

Back during the 'Nam War, protesters sometimes desecrated the flag. Sometimes they flew it upside down. 'Cause it seemed like things were upside down. About 80% of the 58,200 names on the Wall in DC are people who were considered capable of giving their lives in battle but not old enough or responsible enough to vote. Upside down alright.

Sometimes the upside down situation led protesters to burn the flag. They weren't usually people who'd saluted the flag or seen it folded at the funerals of loved ones. But sometimes those folks, sometimes those veterans who'd seen the discrepancy between what the war was supposed to be and what it actually was, sometimes those folks did other things. Like throw their medals back at the White House. Or demonstrate for health care and benefits for disabled veterans.

Lately, we've seen other mobs of people demonstrating. In Cairo. In Syria. In Bahrain. In Lybia. In Afghanistan after a Florida pastor insisted on burning a Quran/Koran.

Then came the demos on May 1 when bin Ladin was pronounced dead. I hardly knew how to take it as I heard people chanting "USA, USA, USA!" at something other than an Olympic medal victory when a gazillion Nike sponsorship dollars had finally turned to gold and a mega-gazllion dollars' worth of incidental advertising and expected sales.

At the spontaneous demo, some held the flag and wrapped themselves in it. Some waved it around like a pom-pom at a high school pep rally. Some practically stuck it right up the lens of the news cameras.

In many ways, it felt like being given the finger. The flag turned into a fabric form of the finger.

Legitimate manifestation of pride? Relief? Or a desecration of the flag?

Whether it's celebrating the death of a terrorist murderer or the women's 4 x 400 relay, wrapping oneself in a flag is desecration in my book. Pure desecration. Not of the piece of fabric itself, but of the intangible ideal behind it

That's why the flag is not supposed to touch the ground. It's supposed to FLY!

It's supposed to fly over all of us, to remind us that the ideals of our Constitution are of value only when lived out in our daily lives and when upheld through the rule of law. Such things are not honored when the flag is used as a beach towel over a sweaty or intoxicated body. They are not honored and actualized in a hopelessly gridlocked Congress or a hopelessly (almost) gridlocked populace unable to pay attention to where we are going.

Over the past several years I've heard that rallying cry "Take our country back!"

From whom, for God's sake? From ourselves, I conclude. From our inattention to it and what the flag stands for: our duty to pay attention to it.

The vacuum our inattention and non-participation have left has been backfilled with planet-sized bags of campaign money. The ideal over which the flag must fly is us, not money.

I hope we have a resurgence of citizenship. I hope the flag never again becomes a fabric form of flipping off friends, enemies or neighbors

Long may it wave.


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