On Memorial Day, my friend did not line his driveway with American flags as usual. It was the same on July 4th and will be the same on Labor Day. No flags. When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t like what the flag says anymore.”
The American flag, once the greatest symbol of freedom around the world, has been appropriated by hate groups and you-can’t-make-me, mask-refusing conspiracy theorists; by a narcissistic president and his lawless enablers; by the money worshippers, the power hungry, and the patriotism hoarders.
Each of these groups sucks a little more freedom from the flag until it becomes nothing but a piece of cloth. For many people, like my friend, it has lost meaning.
Bill of Rights or Bill of Privileges
Here is what I am afraid of: that we are turning the Bill of Rights into the Bill of Privileges. In this nation of privilege, we actively rebel against anyone who says we can’t do whatever we want to do. It doesn’t matter if there is good reason, even life-saving reason, for restrictions. We have gone from a nation of rugged individuals with a fire in our belly for creating a free and prosperous land to a chaotic country of self-absorbed children happier to knock down than build up.
To me, today’s freedom is a much-faded thing, and miles and miles of red, white, and blue bunting will not revive it. Military planes flying over Mt. Rushmore in a photo op will not make it great again.
And yet, I do not give up hope.
While the pandemic and this summer of unrest have driven wedges among our people, they also have formed cracks in our freedom. And that is good. As Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Perhaps we needed those cracks to show us how flawed our world is, how fragile our democracy is, how good we are and how selfish we are, how words of freedom on a piece of paper don’t necessarily make it so.
It is my greatest hope that the freedom of tomorrow will look like this: We will recognize that we have societal obligations that override personal freedom. We will sacrifice for the good of family, tribe, or nation because that is our strength and our duty (even in a nation of individuals). We will value every life equally: young and old, white or of color, rich or poor. We will allow everyone to live without fear: of expressing their views, of being unjustly incarcerated or deported, of dying at the hands of the police or from the next virus waiting on a gust of air.
True freedom is full of light and vibrant. Can’t see it? Just peek through the cracks.
This November, be present. Turn your back on stupid conspiracies and the people who want you to believe in them. Vote by mail-in ballot or in person. Vote for change, vote for love and compassion, vote for justice. Vote as if your life and your children’s lives depend on it. Because they do. Thank you.