Monday, November 10, 2008

Washing the Flag

Last Saturday I participated in a ritual based on poetry by Mark Prime (AKA Poetryman in the blog world) - don't burn the flag, wash it - and we did. We placed the American flag in a basin of soapy water and as we felt compelled we stepped forward and washed the flag while stating our hopes for this symbol.

I was surprised at the depth of emotion that this simple task evoked in me. As I approached the basin I felt all the years of frustration, embarrassment, anger, shame, and pride. I was working in The Netherlands when we invaded Iraq. One weekend I took the train to Amsterdam for some R&R. While there I was spit at by a group of men of Middle Eastern descent. I quickly learned to keep my American mouth closed - as soon as the accent was heard, eyes would turn my way with suspicion, and even hatred. Before I returned home Bush had already declared victory. It was a ludicrous show of American ignorance. The next morning I saw an elderly American lady sporting her flag shirt and I shook my head in disgust.

I remember when I first realized that this flag was deeply soiled with blood, pain and the repression of budding democracies. I read several sources on the history of our South American brothers and sisters. Over and over again, as the people attempted to organize to control their labor and resources our government would step in with violence, not to help them build their democracy, but to squash it so that large fruit or coffee companies could be assured a huge profit margins. Armed with the knowledge of our history, I never once believed we went to Iraq to give democracy - besides democracy never arrives on a bomb or with torture. Torture, disappearances, mass graves, etc., were not supposed to be attributed to America - but apparently we learned well the lessons of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, etc. I wonder how much longer it would have been before American citizens began to vanish into the bowels of places like Gitmo, or under the supervision of hired torturers like the Blackwater gang. After watching and hearing testimony from the RNC I felt deep fear about the direction America was going. I was the closest I've ever been to filing papers with Canada or France for a permanent visa.

I've always loved this country. No place else has attempted the amazing social experiment started by our forefathers. In writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson assured that the people of this great republic can only be ruled by giving our consent, and if the government becomes destructive in it's power, it is our duty to dismantle it and begin again. November 4th revived my faith in Jefferson's wisdom.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

As my hands touched this symbol my voice trembled. I felt tears well up in my eyes. "My hope is that this symbol will no longer cause fear to those who see it but will stand for hope, justice and mercy".


Seda said...

Amen, Terri. Finally, after eight years of soiling our flag with innocent blood and tears, cowardice and disgrace, we can begin to heal. I fervently hope that the next administration illuminates the last one with the disinfecting sunshine of a thorough investigation and public hearings. We need to repudiate the crimes and policies of the Bush administration emphatically.

I, too, thought about seeking asylum elsewhere after the invasion of Iraq. Like you, I realized that THIS is my country. I love it, flaws and all, and I determined that I would stay here and fight to make her better. I've never wavered for a second since. I can do more good here, fighting for peace and justice with nonviolent resistance to tyranny, than anywhere else.

Thanks for the post.

C. Baptiste-Williams said...

very interesting ritual ive never heard of this before