How do we stand for the best of America? How do we show who we are – proudly, steadfastly and with dignity and strength?
That was the question asked not too long ago by a group of concerned Santa Clarita citizens who get together regularly to discuss local and national issues. It’s a non-partisan group, made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents like me.
There are senior citizens and college kids. There are combat veterans and civilians. There are religious leaders and atheists. There is pretty much every kind of person you can imagine, just like the population of Santa Clarita itself.
There should be a lot that separates them, but instead the thing that unites them is a sense that this great country has lost its way. Apathy and confusion allowed people of bad faith to ascend to leadership positions. Manipulation and propaganda deluded good-hearted people into voting for them.
So how do we come back from that? How do we restore the ideals of integrity, honesty, and generosity that make up the America that we teach our children about?
Usually, the discussions in this group of citizens focuses on voter registration, local town halls, and topics like health care, veterans’ benefits, clean air and water, equal rights, and whatever daily scandal emanates from the White House.
On this day, the talk turned to symbols. How do we show what we believe? How do we demonstrate it in a moderate district that actually leans left in voter registration, but is represented in Sacramento and D.C. by the extreme right?
We’re a year away from the next election, and decisions are still being made about candidates, so there are no campaign signs to post. Being against Trump isn’t enough; you have to be for something.
So the question is how you represent and stand proud for your beliefs – like fairness, equality, the rule of law, common sense and patriotism? All things currently lacking from some of our elected officials.
Symbols have power. They unify. They speak for us, even when no words are used. They represent the great volume of what we believe in a single image. When there is integrity and action behind them, they have immense meaning.
But, yes, they can also be superficial and hypocritical. Think of the scarlet “Make America Great Again” hats that have tags inside that read “Made in China.” Or think of the gleaming flag pin on the lapel of a politician with a clenched, equally gleaming smile as he tells smooth lies while voting the opposite way and hoping you won’t notice. These aren’t symbols of belief. They’re masks.
This group of Santa Clarita residents was trying to find a way not to hide who its members are but to demonstrate it proudly. Could the group come up with original signs? A logo? Maybe bumper stickers? What would the symbol be?
It shouldn’t be a political party symbol, because this group has members of both and did not prioritize party over country. It had to be something that stood for equality for all, diversity of background and opinion. It should be uplifting and positive, inspiring hope that all these ideals can be restored.
It should stand for those on the margins of society as well as the powerful. It needed to be something that says clearly, “We may be different, but we will not be divided.”
As it turns out, there’s no need to come up with something new. Such a symbol already exists.
It has seven red stripes and six white ones. It has a field of 50 stars on a background of blue. It flies proudly in our moments of strength, and it lowers to half-staff in times of grief. But always, always it stands for the best of America.
This is the symbol to put outside your home if you are troubled by the actions of Congress and the man currently occupying the White House. This is the symbol you put on your car, on your Facebook page, and within your heart. Wave it proudly on the Fourth of July, on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Display it just as proudly at demonstrations, at meetings and rallies, and protests as we rise up for decency.
And while we’re at it, instead of the usual rote chants, how about if demonstrators join in a few bars of the national anthem, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “America the Beautiful” or “This Land is Your Land.” Those patriotic songs are powerful symbols, too, and I’m guessing a few of the local megaphone-wielders have good baritones.
The American flag has changed a great deal over the past two-and-a-half centuries, but so has our country. There is an inspiring symbolism in that, too.
America is great, not because it is perfect, but because its people believe we can change and become better. The flag that we have today represents that ongoing journey. We must not surrender it to those who undermine its values.
That’s why there’s no need to insert another symbol, to brand it toward one movement or another. No need to add a blue stripe for police, or rainbow hues for LGBTQ pride. Fly flags of those groups on their own, but leave the American flag as is. The whole point of it is to represent the entirety of our great country.
Pride in the flag does not mean lockstep enforcement. You can wave it to symbolize our ideals while also acknowledging that we’re not living up to them. When I see NFL players or others kneeling before it, I see a gesture of respect combined with alarm and grief. I see freedom at work. I don’t see dishonor. They aren’t changing the symbol. They aren’t dismissing it. They kneel in mourning.
Displaying the flag in these times reclaims a symbol of patriotism. It is a gesture of hope and inspiration. For those who crave a symbol of unity, of values, of integrity, we have the stars and stripes.
It stands for many things, among them: liberty and justice. For all.
Anthony Breznican is a Santa Clarita Valley resident.