1.) Not entirely sure when I did it—junior or senior year—I stole the high school US flag and burned it in a YMCA parking lot.
There were maybe four of us, and we'd been reading a Time magazine article (some kids once read Time magazine) about then-President George Bush (the first one) pushing for a ban on flag burning. The Supreme Court had previously ruled on the flag-burning issue in 1989, but the issue kept coming back for a few years. It comes back even today.
As I recall it, there was an assault on funding for the Arts (the NEA), an assault on Public Broadcasting (CPB), an assault on free speech (get rid of Texas v. Johnson
), and a
pending war in Iraq. Dumb angry teenagers in a small town decided to
take a stand—so we stole the flag from our high school courtyard,
took it across the highway to the YMCA, and attempted to burn it.
Turned out the flag was flame-retardant; it didn't burn so much as
|No disrespect: It is a great picture|
What's always amazed me about it is that no one noticed. We were in full view of a well-traveled highway, and despite the melting rather than burning, there was a decent flame in that YMCA parking lot, and a noticeably purloined flag in the school courtyard the following Monday. Nothing was ever said about it.
Can free speech happen in a vacuum?
2.) During the same period, I refused to stand while an ill-tuned school band played the National Anthem during a pep rally. Pep rallies were always awful for me, but this one was particularly awful because it came just after we'd started bombing Iraq. (If you recall, the first Iraq War was less a war and more of a game of horseshoes, and lasted about as long as a visit to Wal-Mart.) Not realizing it would be noticed—I was one anonymous kid in a sea of anonymous kids far more popular than I, all of us sitting on bleachers in a gym as the band played on—I didn't stand. I sat quietly, reading a book and letting the creaky rendition of 'Star Spangled Banner' waiver o'er the land of the free and the gym of the brave.
There was no disrespect meant. I'd done the same thing for years during family prayer over turkey and dressing and Christmas geese: I quietly waited for those who wanted to express gratitude I lacked to give their expression, and assumed my quite refusal was respected. After all, the entire point of our Republic is to allow for the individual over the group.
Before the pep rally was brought to its clamoring conclusion, my AP English teacher pulled me from the bleachers into the hall outside the gym. She demanded to know why I had not stood during the anthem. I explained—in a no doubt snotty-teen way—that it just didn't seem right for me to stand in support of the anthem right then, as I didn't agree with the war, and didn't agree with many of the policies coming out of Washington. I stressed I wasn't disagreeing with others to support all of that (and I'm sure I rolled my eyes when I said 'all of that'), but I couldn't pretend, and preferred to finish my book.
I got a few hours in detention.
3.)My graduating class latched on to another hot-button issue of the time: Prayer in public school. The class—my class—insisted publicly that we demanded a prayer at our graduation, which was not at all true. There were several students who could not care less about a prayer, and even more who would rather just get the diploma and go home and skip the long speeches. Get to the cake and the family after the ceremony.
When I wrote a letter to the editor (yeah, I know...) about the Christians forgetting that there were other faiths in the class, and ridiculing the idea of a Christian Majority thinking itself a victimized minority, I was made to apologize to my grandparents. My letter to the editor pissed off a local media celebrity named Jamie Cooper, known as a Country Rover, who threatened to strangle me.
4.) I haven't done much since. I pushed for same-sex marriage, came out in a very public way, spent time at OWS, marched against the second Iraq War and the second term of GWB. Got gay-married. Would still burn a flag if the cause presented itself. All my small, long-past protests come back to me sometimes, and I think I should return. Rather than attempting to Twitter or Facebook my disgust, I should fight as I used to fight, go analogue rather than keeping it digital.
When I wrote about being gay, I said I was not trying to be political. It is the stupidest thing I've ever written. My life is political, and it is made so not by me, but by those who think sitting down during the National Anthem is an affront to those who serve a free country. One would hope those who serve understand that is one of the things they're fighting for.
Also, they're fighting for the right to end a sentence in a preposition.
Think of all the men and women who, for decades, could not serve because of gender, skin-color, or orientation. And think of how many people can now, after just a few years, serve.