My friend Annie recently mentioned a grocery trip during which her daughter insisted upon wearing her American flag dress. “What does the American flag symbol currently represent?” she asked. “In my opinion, it’s ignorance and greed at best. What can we do each day to resurrect the pillars this county stands on? We’re so much better than this.”
Annie: I hear you! I don’t claim to have any answers, but I love this question, particularly as an American abroad at this moment in history. I also love that children, like your daughter, aren’t caught up in the outer OR inner turmoil.
To further the conversation, I’ve just dug up this article I wrote some years ago for the Bolinas Hearsay (then my local newspaper). If you don’t want to read the whole thing, at least scroll down to the Wendell Berry poem at the bottom!
A bit of context for those of you unfamiliar: Bolinas is a town that takes it’s July 4th celebrations Verrrrrrry Seriously. It’s easily the biggest celebration of the year, drawing tourists from far and wide for the parade, a showcase for small-town agrarianism, creative genius, and a heavy dose of progressive politics. The day also features a tug-of-war between Bolinas and Stinson, the small town across the lagoon channel.
I almost used the tug-of-war metaphor to represent the place we find ourselves in today, as citizens of countries and as humans with hearts, but as Annie says, “we’re so much better than this!” What about something along the lines of… let’s forego sides and ALL take up the rope and use it as a tool to achieve some shared goal? I want to stay optimistic, as angry as I am. Tonight I’m joining a class on Buddhism, social change, and non-violent action. I am curious to see what tools present themselves, and hope to report back soon.
Bolinas Hearsay, July 2011
On the afternoon of July 5th 2010, I was wandering up from the beach on Wharf Road. I followed the stars and stripes painted in red, white, and blue along the road, beaming at the memory of watching them magically appear a day earlier behind the tractor during the parade, our latest gift from the always-inspiring, always-surprising Gospel Flat Farmer-artist-provocateurs.
Just then, Mickey and Sam Murch themselves drove up in the farm truck. Still grinning, I told them that they – the farmers and their art – were the highlight of my Fourth of July!
But Sam’s look was somber. “Some people complained to [name omitted]. We’re here to clean up,” he told me, nodding toward the pressure washer and lengths of hose in the back of the truck. “Apparently people aren’t necessarily mad that we painted on the road – it’s that they don’t want to look at American flags.” They didn’t even know who had complained, as the person (persons?) chose not to bring the issue directly to them.
Are people concerned about what the flag represents? I will confess that there have been times that the American Flag has been embarrassing to me, too. What’s really to complain about, though? If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that if I cannot find anything of value to connect to our flag, it’s because I’m too busy focusing on the negative to see all the good land, good people, and good works all around me.
Maybe there is some concern that this type of creativity disrespects the flag; why not celebrate the fact that there are young people, even in Bolinas, who are proud and inspired enough to claim the stars and stripes?
I find it hard to believe that anyone in Bolinas has not benefited in some way or another from the goodness of Gospel Flat Farmers and/or produce – even if you haven’t yet enjoyed the company of any of the Murches or personally made a purchase from the farm stand, you’ve no doubt enjoyed at least the veggies via the People’s Store, a neighbors pot-luck offering, or community center meal. If the very act of feeding our community through food, friendship, and art is not patriotic, I’m not sure what is.
We may never know what deeper issues lurk under the surface of the anonymous complaint(s), but we do know that Mickey and Sam Murch spent a good portion of their National Holiday cleaning red, white, and blue paint off the roads downtown. And that, in my opinion, was a tragic and regrettable waste of some of the best creative energy that we are blessed to have in Bolinas.
I will close with a portion of “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” a poem by Wendell Berry, who often says it best:
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
I beg Mr. Berry’s pardon for blatant plagiarism; this is my something for the day that doesn’t compute.
With much gratitude for everyone who participated in the parade, and especially all four generations at Gospel Flat Farm,