I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America.
And to the Republic, for which it stands.
One nation, under God, indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for All.
Every day in my elementary school, I stood with my hand over my heart and dutifully recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I had no idea whatsoever what the words pledge, allegiance, republic or indivisible meant and only a dim notion of liberty and justice. No teacher ever bothered to explain them to me and no one seemed to think it necessary that we kids understood what we were saying. Just dutifully obey and you automatically became a patriotic citizen.
Same deal with the national anthem. What the hell is a rampart? What is a star-spangled banner? How does a twilight gleam? And why are we concerned about whether José can see? Once again, no one cared to explain it to me. Just stand up, sing the words and you’re in the club.
And now, thanks to Colin Kaepernick, the game is changing. If we’re going to say or sing the words, shouldn’t we live them as well? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to use them as the true north of our moral compass? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable to say what we mean and mean what we say? Wouldn’t the true patriot be the one who points out the discrepancies, holds our feet to the fire to stand by the principles the Founding Fathers set forth? Wouldn’t the folks just mouthing the words and giving silent consent to our transgressions against the things we pledged to uphold be considered unworthy citizens? You would think.
Colin has chosen to stand up and speak out by sitting down and shutting up (some delicious irony there!). And of course, all the so-called patriots are infuriated that their game is exposed. All the fans who identify with their team driven mostly (in football and basketball as least) by black athletes are happy to cheer them on to win the game, but unwillingly to notice that they could get killed by cops driving to the game if they have car trouble or reach in their pocket for their driver’s license.
We don’t recite the pledge allegiance at my school, but I’m thinking maybe we should. But only if the kids understand what their responsibility of allegiance is. Here’s how I would talk about it:
One nation: That means one that gives equal rights to every American citizen, be they Mexican, Muslim, gay, straight, black, brown, white and all the shades in-between, man, woman, poor, rich, disabled, young, old, Democrat, Republican. Any politician who promises rights and favors only to those who look like him and think like him (or her) should be removed from office—or preferably, not allowed to enter office.
Under God: Given the separation of church and state, not clear why that’s there. But if it must be, I’d clarify that God has many names. And if anyone insists that it means the Judeo-Christian version, I’d invoke numbers 6, 8 and 9 of the Ten Commandments:
• Thou shalt not kill. Take note, policemen, when stopping a black man who is
doing nothing wrong or life-threatening.
• Thou shalt not steal. Take note, Wall Street tycoons and Wells Fargo Bank CEO’s.
• Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor. Take note, politicians
and Fox news, who will twist and distort facts and give voting rights to people who
think Obama is a Muslim terrorist.
Indivisible: That means when a President is elected (like say, Barack Obama. Twice.), you work with him to serve the common needs of the same country instead of oppose his every attempt to bring people together and offer basic things like health care.
With Liberty and Justice for All: Given our history and the news of the day, we might need to add a special accent here.
Liberty and Justice for ALL!!!!
Native Americans should have the right to preserve the sacred burial grounds in Dakota on land that was stolen from them. Gay couples should have the rights and privileges of marriage. Muslims should have the right to religious freedom. Women should get paid the same as men doing similar work. Black men should not be afraid to drive their cars. Drug addicts should be given the same empathy and help as alcoholics and sent to rehabilitations centers instead of prisons. All people should have equal access and encouragement to vote. Children should have the right to a free public education that actually teaches them what they need to know as future citizens in ways that are nurturing, affirming of their character, attentive to their developmental needs and ways of learning, fun and effective.
Etc. It’s really pretty simple when you get down to it. If we’re going to recite the pledge of allegiance, if we are to sing songs about the “land of the free and home of the brave,” we better make sure it is free for all and be brave enough to stand up (or sit down) for it.
Let’s get to work.