I just watched a You Tube video of the Great Red Skelton doing his Pledge Of Allegiance bit. I’ve seen the performance before, maybe as long ago as on his TV show back in the sixties, but it’s been a long time. This isn’t a comedy routine. It’s a story about a teacher explaining the meaning of the pledge to his students. It’s very touching.
I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. When it’s recited, I stand quietly with everyone else, out of respect for those around me, and if I’m wearing a hat I’ll remove it (It bugs the shit out of me how many good ol’ boys with frazzled flags flying off the beds of their 4x4’s won’t take off their caps for The Pledge!), but I don’t put my hand over my heart and mumble the incantation, much as I’ll stand if I’m in a church and the guy says ‘All rise’ when it’s time to say a prayer, but I don’t bow my head and recite those magic words, either. What I do is look around to see who else is looking around and not reverently bowing their heads. It really can be fun and interesting. (I’ll write about God another time.)
One day long, long ago, when I was a junior at Montgomery High, they had to shuffle the homeroom periods to accommodate a pep rally or something, and my homeroom class for the day was Bill Marcott’s advanced biology class. (Bill Marcott, the tennis coach and, by the way, a Texan, was the guy who got me Dexedrine to give to my fruit flies, but that, too is another story – and a very complicated one.)
At this point in ancient history, ‘Homeroom’ activities consisted of standing and saying the pledge and listening to announcements that, if you were interested in, you already knew about, and if you weren’t, you couldn’t have cared less. But that day, because of the changed schedule, in Bill Marcott’s second period advanced biology class, one skinny little blond girl didn’t stand up for the pledge.
She sat at a station in the second row. She was a nerdy girl with heavy rimmed glasses. She always raised her hand and knew the answers. She was, like, a teacher’s pet. Marcott, red faced, marched her out of the classroom and she never returned. I’m glad I sat in the back.
I’m reluctant to pledge my allegiance to any symbol because of the fickleness of man’s devices, nations among them. By revolution, coup, and the choice of blinded citizenries, nations have turned evil. My own family heritage gives evidence to that. My allegiance is to the ideals and the people of The United States, not to it’s totems. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. They didn’t pledge to a flag. (Of course, they didn’t have one yet, but that’s beside the point.)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a flag waver. I fly my three by five foot flag on appropriate holidays. I try to remember not to leave it out after dark unless it’s properly lit. I fold it into a little star-spangled triangle when it’s stored. I’ve worn a flag pin in my lapel for as long as I’ve worn jackets with lapels. Like I said, I love what the flag stands for and I’m proud to share that feeling. Besides, it’s a pretty psychedelic flag.
But, I’m a flag burner, too, and that’s what I wanted to write about. I haven’t burned any flags personally, but I am firm in my support of the right of freedom of speech, and the right to spoil the symbol of the nation in protest of it’s policy is the ultimate expression of that right. Banning the citizens’ right to peacefully protest against the government is the way of totalitarianism, not democracy. If the government takes that right away, it’ll be time for everybody to stop saying the pledge.
The only time I ever wrote to my legislators was when I sent a letter urging them not to support a bill allowing congress to pass a law prohibiting flag burning. (Their doublespeak, not mine.) Here’s an excerpt.
....I was brought up, as I guess we all were in the fifties, to believe that our flag was to be ceremoniously burned if it ever so much as touched the ground. That, we were taught, was flag desecration.
Desecration is setting your flag up on Presidents Day and having it still hanging, by one loop or wrapped three or four times round the staff, on Veterans Day. Desecration is putting a flag up in the back of your Jeep and leaving it there until it is so tattered that there are no longer any stripes beside the field of stars. Desecration is dropping the little flag the Legionnaires gave you at the Veterans Day Parade in the gutter after the parade is over.
Burning a flag is not, by the definition of the word, desecration. The ceremonious burning of the flag, whether in honorable retirement or in protest, is an act that, by its nature, recognizes the flag’s importance. The burning of a flag in protest is the burning of an effigy; a symbol representing the object of protest. Our nation was born in protest. Laws that seek to limit people’s freedom of political expression are contrary to the ideals of those early protesters, and to the ideals that the flag represents.
I got a hand-signed letter back from Feinstein explaining that, as one of the authors of the bill, she wasn’t likely to withdraw her support and that we’d ‘Just have to agree to disagree.” (Oops.)
As I read over what I’ve written here, I sound like some sort of militia nut. I’d like to make it absolutely clear that I’m not in any way associated with, nor do I agree with the beliefs or tactics of the militia nuts, except perhaps the belief that our freedom is something to be both joyfully celebrated and covetously protected.
Thanks for reading.