Koreman: Flag Burning Doesn’t Help

Yes, you have the right to burn the American flag — but you shouldn’t.

by Samantha Koreman | 1/24/17 12:15am

Activism isn’t activism unless it has the ability to bring about political or social change. Burning the American flag is, quite literally, too incendiary to accomplish that task. It won’t breed constructive, meaningful discourse. It won’t even make a nuanced statement about how a subset of the currently disenfranchised are feeling. And perhaps most critically of all, burning the flag gives President Donald Trump’s followers evidence to support their claims that those who oppose the new administration are anti-American.

In today’s environment, the most harmful evil is polarization. It breeds a lack of understanding and, in turn, continued violence against those who are already suffering. Everyone already knows that the vocal left is angry — very angry. The problem is, many Americans don’t understand why. But burning the flag won’t make them want to understand, either.

Some individuals may believe that the flag is only a representation of the legal rights afforded to all Americans. In a way, those people are right — the flag really is just a piece of cloth. But by that logic, the Constitution is just a sheet of old parchment, former President Barack Obama is just another guy and Earth is a bit of rock floating through the vast emptiness of space. Things have meaning only because people confer value onto them in order to experience them. To Trump’s supporters and a large portion of the world’s population, the U.S. flag represents America’s potential. It makes people feel protected. So burning it won’t change minds. It’ll only make people afraid. And when people are afraid, they close themselves off to new ideas to feel safe.

The most active and engaged citizens think not only of themselves. Instead, they see themselves in relation to the many. The greatest threat to our democracy is not Trump. Rather, it is what he represents — the silencing of people who aren’t like him. Counteract Trump’s attempt to quiet you with active, vocal conversation. Talk to your peers who voted for him. Tell your story but also listen to the narratives of others. Shirk polemics and open yourself up to other points of view. Over time, those you disagree with — those you view as your adversaries — will do the same. While it is easy to remain justifiably angry, it is significantly more difficult to set aside outrage in favor of using passion as kindling for effective activism to foster mutual respect.

Part of the wonder and magic of subversion is its ability to break down an oppressive structure from the inside of the very system. It uses the oppressive power of the institution to disrupt its very nature. The United States of America is home to a lot of problems. By no means is it perfect. By no means can any one person make it perfect. But that doesn’t mean that every person with the fire inside of them shouldn’t try. By doing better, over time you have the ability to do good. So, to you, my prospective flag burner, I implore you: do better.

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