In the past three years, I've seen a lot of American flags bedecking cars, being festooned over shops, and being flown from houses. Most of the time, when an American flag is visible, there are no words to accompany it. But when words do accompany the flag, they're usually conservative politically, in support of George W. Bush electorally, and pro-war more generally.
That's irritated a number of my friends, who have decided to sport American flags of their own in hope of "taking back the flag," which means ending the association between the American flag (and, implicitly, patriotism) and conservative, pro-war, pro-Bush politics. The problem is that right-wing words have been placed next to the American flag so often by right-wing political operatives that many people assume the presence of the American flag indicates support of conservatism, support of war, and support of Bush.
So what's a patriotic progressive to do? Not wanting to be misconstrued, my wife has put an American flag, a peace message and a pro-Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker all in a row on the back bumper of her car. This makes for quite a show, and is one good way to go about it.
I keep returning back to that phrase, "take the flag back." It indicates ownership: not something sacred that stands above the American people and the American nation, but something that is a representation of the American people and the American nation, in all its diversity and creative individuality. When the American flag was first designed, the stars and the bars were a graphic representation of what America was at the time. Why not (oh, the heresy) give the American flag an updating to represent a renewed American vision, one that represents the progressive take on what the best of America is all about?
And hence the Progressive American Flag. The above poster, available in small, medium, and large sizes, puts ten progressive icons (a handshake, a peace sign, the Earth, the Sun, the recycling icon, the heart, the yin/yang, the peace/freedom hand sign, equality and a bicycle) where the field of stars usually sits. Placed in the red bars is a collage of photographs I took of the protest of the Republican National Convention on August 29, 2004. The photos are placed in chronological order from left to right and top to bottom, making the journey through the red bars a virtual experience of the peaceful, energetic, positive protest as it unfolded. In the white bars of the flag are placed six quotes from American progressives on dissent as an act of love of country:
Display this flag, and you'll not only be showing your own true colors, you'll be preserving a piece of history lost in the hysterical Fox News accounts of violent rioting in New York City. You'll also be provoking those who differ from you politically -- not into a fistfight, but into passionate reaction and, hopefully, impassioned discussion. The free exchange of ideas, after all, is the lifeblood of our nation. Silence is its poison.
Stake your claim. Start the conversation. Raise the flag.
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