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Whose Flag? Our Flag

A tale of two flags, election day, and the United States of America.

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What does the U.S. flag mean? Depends on whose holding it.

The day President Elect Trump was announced, I woke up feeling overwhelmed. I decided to go sweat out some anxiety at the gym, with my wife. On our way, we saw something that we'd never seen on the drive to the gym before: An older white man stood on Hall Boulevard at a busy intersection with a U.S. flag so large that he had to use his body as a counterweight to keep the flag from touching the ground.

"What's that guy doing?" My spouse asked.

(expletive) I responded.

"I wonder what would happen if I went to talk with him," she replied.

I wasn't picturing talking to him. I was picturing this: running as fast as I could towards him, grabbing the flag mid-stride, and running with it. Whose flag? My flag.

It was a primal, base-chakra urge, brought about no doubt by the new President Elect's broadcast of the base chakra as diagnosed by Deepak Chopra on the Conan O'Brien show. Why is this older white man suddenly spurred to hold a giant flag on a busy street on the day after the election? Why not yesterday or the thousand days before? What did this symbol mean to him? Then I saw his red hat with the white words: "Make America Great Again."

"Make America Great Again." It seems the word "America," is some imaginary place, (see Ammond Bundy's testimony) devoid of history or accountability or legal precedent or government independence from corporate influence. Whatever America is, it is not, in point of fact, a country. Seeing an older white man hold the flag of the United States of America while wearing a "Make America Great Again hat," it occurred to me that if this man wants to make America great again, he'd first need to make it a country. Maybe that's what he thinks he's doing by holding an unnecessarily giant U.S. flag projecting out from his pelvis (I am not making that up). Maybe he is "holding the pole" for a new America. And maybe that's what will happen: the birth of a nation (pun intended) named America. Forget the United States part. This is the thought that makes me want to run up to a complete stranger and steal his ridiculously large flag.

When we arrived at the gym 5 minutes later, I still felt all worked up. I looked around at my fellow gym members. How many of these people would stand with that man on Hall Boulevard? How would I be able to tell, since no one in the gym was wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat?

I sat on the gym's floor waiting to start the class, still chewing on the idea of the flag and the image of that man holding it. As the class went on, I noticed something was different: the people around me. These people who've done burpees next to me for two years, who might say hello and how are you and how's that ankle injury, but mostly nothing beyond half-attentive niceties, were different then the day before. Many people at the gym belong to the same Christian church, and send their young folks to prestigious, religious private high schools and colleges; people that many self-respecting radical activist butch lesbians might be afraid to spend time around. Yet, these people, on the morning after election day, each down to the last one, looked me in the eye and said hello. Two people gave me a hug. One rested a hand on my shoulder reassuringly, though I said nothing. Many asked me how I was doing.

I left the gym feeling deep pain, not because I exercised so hard, but because grief and love fought it out in my neurons. Every few moments I'd think of the election results, and the white man with the flag, and America vs. the United States, and the people at the gym, and all the lives that will be wildly, drastically, horribly, irreparably impacted by the polices enacted through a Trump administration (just imagine what his Cabinet picks will do).

A few hours later, these pains and thoughts still swirled through my head as I went to provide a couple of hours of childcare for close family friends. Whose names I may or may not mention here depending on whether they feel like it's safe to do so. Because her parents are two married women, legal and everything, who both have equal parental rights because of the legality of gay marriage, which will no doubt be in the cross hairs of the next administration, if not in the cross hairs of empowered haters everywhere. Writing that made me pause because holy shit.

"D" showed me her chalkboard and said we should write something. I said, "Let's make a list of things we can do while we're together."

The usual suspects appeared: Make art. Go to the park. And then this came out of D's mouth: "Let's make an American flag."

I felt my gut twist around my spine. Because of all days, this is the day she wants to make a flag? I wanted to say, "NO!" This f*n flag! Do you know what's happened under this flag? What is likely to happen now under the guise of this flag? Ask the people at Standing Rock. Ask the people of the Emanuel AME church in Charleston. Ask THIS F*N FLAG. That's what I felt. But staring into the incredible face of this young person I love so very much and first met on her second day on the planet, I couldn't say any of those things.

D has eagle-eye perception. She can read any hesitation or aversion. She is an uncanny witness of every moment. She is patient when she senses some aspect of conflict. She waited and watched me, while I sorted out the screaming choir inside. I likewise looked at D – a whole person, who hadn't lived as many years as I had yet. A whole person, who, in the years to come, would have experiences that would shape her and her sense of belonging. D already knows that things aren't fair, that there's things that happen that hurt people. She'll learn more as she ages about injustice and inequality. But that lesson didn't have to be right now. Didn't have to be given in response to the simple request to make a U.S. flag together out of crayons and scrap paper. My ideal response, in that moment, was to tell her yes, the flag is hers. It is hers to make. And mine to make with her.

So, like millions of adults everywhere, I had to very quickly set aside everything I was thinking and feeling and focus on the kid. I pretended I was in an emergency situation, during which the most important thing to do was to make a f*n United States of America flag, and have fun doing it.

As a pretty young person, D wasn't sure what the flag looked like, so we pulled up a picture. She began coloring the red and white stripes. We spent a lot of time discussing our engineering and design plans for the stars.

"There's too many of them," she said. "We can't draw that many."

"Well, there's 50 states in the U.S., and this is a flag for all those states. Every state is important, because that's what makes the United States."

"Let's just draw three of them," she said.

"Ok, so, which three states would you want to have in the U.S.?" I said. Right about then I was thinking maybe she was channeling the west coast secession movement.

"Well, Oregon…" She stared at me, paused, then burst into laughter. "Ah, I don't know any other names!"

Together, we looked at a map of the United States. "There's too many to make a star for each!" she said.

"I bet we could draw 50 stars in the blue box in less then 3 minutes," I replied. We drew 50 stars in 2 minutes and 32 seconds.

"We can write the names of the states on the back," she said. And so, we did. She would choose a state from the map, spell out the letters, and I'd write the name on the back of the flag. At one point, she started to spell out "C-A-N-A-D-A". I tried to explain that it's not a state, it's a separate country – but she stuck to her guns, and made me write it down (apologies, Canada).

After we wrote down 8 states she said that was enough. At least I got her to do the 50 stars. I asked her what she thought the purpose of the flag might be.

"It's something we cheer for," she said.

I felt a terrible squeeze in my heart. Did I mention this is the daughter of a lesbian couple in Portland, Oregon? Keep that in mind, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence, Ted Cruze, Focus on the Family, American Center for Law and Justice, and every single Republican in power.

I asked her if I could take a photo of the flag, and she enthusiastically said yes. Then, she said, "We need to write, 'Tanya and D's flag" on it, then take a picture together."

Do not cry, do not cry, do not cry, I thought to myself. I took a deep breath before replying. "Yes, we do. We absolutely, positively need to do that," I said. She wrote my name. She wrote her name. On the flag.

As the sun set on November 9th, I found myself holding a beautiful flag of the United States of America given to me by a beloved and wise young person. A lot of people would point to D and say she is the future. But what matters is the right now. What D and every other young person experiences right now will shape her, and their, futures. What each of us experience in the now, this now, right now, and the next right now, and the one after that, and all the 1,000s of nows, is what shapes how we contribute, what we experience, and what the future will be.

I know that everyone is feeling so much right now, and that we all will be feeling so much going forward. Pretty soon, though, it's going to be about more than feelings. It's going to be about actions: moves, countermoves, more moves. When I'm making choices about what to do, I'll take my cue from the people at the gym who chose to express kindness and love to each other and to me. I'll take my cue from an old white man holding a flag, whose choice to Make America Great Again, reminded me that I must act to ensure that the flag is a symbol owned by no individual man or movement. I'll take my cue from the stories people are sharing of the violence already occurring, and the responses of support to those experiencing that violence and those working to prevent that violence. I'll take my cue from my white friends and family who I've never seen post anything about racism, who now, suddenly, are filling their Facebook feeds with comments about their outrage over racist attacks and assaults. I'll take my cue from little D, who reminded me that on the most awful of days, the thing that you don't want to do is sometimes exactly what you have to do. Make art. Ask questions. Listen for answers. Embrace the thing that symbolizes what holds you together, while holding on to the best ideal, and best practices, of the United States of America. Whose flag? Our flag.

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