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A Benediction on the Occasion of National Flag Burning Day
The closer it is to an election, the more politically fashionable protecting graven images becomes. This year, a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag could draw John Kerry into a Dukakis Trap. Will the current Senator from Massachusetts vote to protect fabric and amend the constitution? Or will he side with Nathan Callahan, calling for observance of more important issues?


It’s a glorious time to be celebrating.

Back when we first burned the American flag at this memorial, the old national holidays were losing their glow. Memorial Day and Labor Day were no more than opportunities for white sales. Presidents’ Day was a recreational weekend. Martin Luther King’s Birthday had been co-opted by milquetoast opportunists. The Fourth of July was more about pyrotechnics than independence. It was some kind of sorry. We needed to spark up our national spirit again.


Today, we are here to honor those brave Americans who sacrificed the flag so that freedom could survive. Flag Burning Day was their vision — a kind of cleansing of the national palette, a rejuvenation of the spirit of liberty and justice, a rekindling of love for this jack nation.

Hey nonny ding dong, alang alang alang.

This day was born of a dark time. It was the turn of the century. George W. Bush was president — a flag waver and a self-proclaimed “Real American.”

Say again?

George W. Bush didn’t have any affection for this country. He went AWOL after joining the Air Force. He was the first president with an arrest record. He spent the national surplus, bankrupted the treasury, and achieved the biggest annual deficit in history. He set the record for cutting unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans. He gutted healthcare benefits for war veterans. He turned the world against us. Love America?


Every time George W. Bush downloaded into videoframe, people waved the American flag. What were they thinking? Were they blind to the fact of who they were? Was it a Pavlovian malady? Mass hysteria? Fanaticism? We never found out. Looking back we ask: What’s the flag got to do with this anti-American adolescent, inarticulate, freakass, cowboy-hat-wearing, ballot-eating zombie? If Congress hadn’t been so concerned with paybacks and paychecks, George W. Bush would have been exiled.

Instead, chest thumping, mall shopping, and duct taping became national pastimes. Even when W. Bush lied and used plagiarized documents to justify a war on Iraq, our Congress waved their flags and responded with cyclones of applause.

Ba-doh, ba-doo ba-doodle-ay.

What a blessing — the soul-satisfying opportunity to taste the glory of a righteous will and run the traitors out of office.

June 3, 2003. We are here to commemorate that day of awakening when the United States Congress approved an amendment to the Constitution to criminalize flag burning. The vote was 300 to 125. For shame.

"If we allow its defacement," Ohio Republican Congressman Steve Chabot said (back when politics was perception), "we allow our country's gradual decline."

What Congress failed to notice was that our country was already in a STEEP decline . . . and their own ignorance was the cause of it.

So what happened?

Y’all know.

This flag of ours was so abused and desecrated in the name of profit and power, that the people of this great nation rose up together and said, in the words of that great old hymn, “We Gotta Raze It, in Order to Build It Up Again.”


Flag Burning Day. It began as a day of national decontamination — a day to expel the stench of the Bush Administration. A day to end warped notions of patriotism, gaudy jingoist sound-bites and simple-minded shoulder graphics. A day to end puritanical smugness and pre-emptive war.

We — the people — refused to allow our rights to be taken away by color-coded fears. We refused to condemn others simply for their beliefs. We defended freedom, not an emblem on a stick.


One by one, flags burned, the physics of the moment emancipating our light and energy: Carbon fuel uniting with oxygen to fashion carbon dioxide; fabric animating, crumpling and shifting like dozing elephants; ethics and icons colliding.

Before the altar of freedom our flag burned for a corrupt Supreme Court that twisted the arms of justice.

Our flag burned for Florida’s election thief, Katherine Harris.

Our flag burned for Enron’s Ken Lay.

Our flag burned for global war profiteers like Halliburton.

Our flag burned for John Poindexter, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft.

Our flag burned for an economy that ignored the honest labor of working men and women and favored the speculators and shell games of Wall Street.

Our flag burned for a health and education system that put our youth in prison instead of schools.

Our flag burned for a government subservient to greed.

Our flag burned for a lying, self-oriented, sackashit President who had the audacity to blaspheme, "I'm a uniter, not a divider." May a disuniter like George W. Bush never darken our country’s doorway again.

Break it down like this:

As flags burned from sea to shining sea, the world answered back with affirmation. England joined us straight away in celebrating this day of conflagration. France, a bit jealous, followed suit. Today, as I stand before you, nearly every nation in the free world has a National Flag Burning Day.

Let us again strike a match and burn a flag in tribute to those who lit the fire of freedom. We are not only survivors of a dark era in our nation’s history, but inheritors of new emancipation — an emancipation of mind and spirit.

Together we stand — one fantastically conglomerated, fired-up, mixed-bag-of-nuts nation.

Life could be a dream. Sh-boom. Sh-boom.

In those olden and prophetic words of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, I say to you, "It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt."

All the more reason to love it. So be it. Hang it on me.

When spirit becomes symbol, heart becomes dogma. Today, we are free. Long may it burn. Long may it wave.
— Nathan Callahan, June 25, 2003


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