A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 19, 2000
CONTACT: Michael Auerbach (617) 722-2240
OLD GLORY, NEW MILLENNIUM
Several years ago, one of my constituents contacted me because her condominium association would not allow her to freely display the American flag from her unit. Having spent a great deal of time assisting the residents of my district with various problems and issues, I thought that this phone call would be like all the rest. I would probably just have to do a little research, make a couple of phone calls, and the problem would be resolved. Little did I know that I would still be fighting for this constituent into the next millennium, nor was I aware that this issue would generate the kind of publicity that it has in the recent weeks.
The so-called "flag bill," recently engrossed by the House of Representatives two days before Flag Day, has been a recurring issue for the Legislature for the past six years. The current bill, H.3565, would permit residents of condominium complexes to fly the flag of the United States despite any bylaw to the contrary.
In drafting this piece, I had only the best intentions in mind. A constituent was being repeatedly fined for flying her flag and I felt obligated to do something about it. Perhaps I was motivated by my deep feelings for the "star spangled banner" that has represented the United States of America for over two centuries.
As many already know, several flags were developed and considered as a representation of the American colonies. There was a flag with a rattlesnake laid across the field of red and white stripes, with the famous warning emblazoned across the bottom, "Don't Tread on Me." There was also a flag that contained the thirteen stripes, but also contained in the upper left corner the Union symbol, representing the connection between the colonies and Great Britain (and in the minds of some, indicated the surrender of the colonies to King George).
As fervor grew for independence, so did the desire to illustrate this fervor on the flag. The new flag was to show the world its newest nation. Thus, the Founding Fathers and the flag's designer, Betsy Ross, decided in 1776 to replace the Union emblem with a field of 13 stars. When the Continental Congress adopted the flag on June 14, 1777, it resolved that the field of stars would represent "a new constellation." This symbol would serve to unite the colonies and territories in a common struggle for justice, freedom, and independence.
The importance of the flag has not faded since its creation over 200 years ago. We see "Old Glory" proudly displayed on houses, gravestones, and even motor vehicles. In the State House, there is a special room, Memorial Hall (also know as the Hall of Flags), that is home to a small sampling of the over 400 original flags carried to battle by Massachusetts soldiers since the Civil War. Memorial Hall is sacred to all citizens of the Commonwealth because it honors the brave men and women from Massachusetts who served their country in battle. As we all know, it was a tremendous honor to "bear the colors" in battle since the flag did not just represent freedom, it embodied this value. Every time I visit this room with a group of my constituents, we pause to reflect upon the many patriots who stood united behind these colors, defending the themes and ideals of our Founding Fathers.
There are thousands of citizens who also feel very strongly about the American flag. One individual, who has been in contact with my office in the recent weeks, holds a very special place in his heart for this banner. This citizen, along with his family, was interned in the Dachau prison camp near Munich. A child at the time, he watched as his family was brutalized at the hands of the Nazis. Dachau was, in his words, the "gates of hell."
When the Allies had begun their liberation of Europe, an American unit arrived at Dachau. One of the soldiers handed him a small gift to help him understand that freedom had come: an American flag. The boy burst into tears, falling to the man's feet, knowing that these men had arrived to bring him and his fellow prisoners from the gates of hell. That little flag is still with him today, somewhat frayed and browned from the years (not unlike those flags in Memorial Hall), but nonetheless sacred to him.
To this man, the American flag was far more than a piece of cloth, a mere representation of the United States. To him, the flag is the embodiment of freedom. The flag liberated Europe. The flag liberated the world.
Our nation is one of great diversity. While ideally our forefathers envisioned a "melting pot," the United States more resembles a "tossed salad," one made up of distinct individuals, each with his or her own goals and dreams, as well as the plans to achieve those goals and dreams. Our states and regions also have distinctions from one another; our home of New England, for example, has a decidedly different flavor than that of the Carolinas, the Northwest or the Farm Belt. Our founding fathers took these different hopes, goals and even cultural values into consideration when they wrote our constitution.
Still, as I mentioned earlier, our nation's founders also understood that even despite its citizens' occasional, decidedly different qualities, the United States would be just as its name suggests: united states. Whether dealing with the inevitable domestic growing pains that come with well over two hundred years of history or with the changes and crises that arise abroad, our people would need to join together under a symbol to which they may endear. They would need a symbol that would remind them of the concepts and ideals that drove the patriots to stand firm against tyranny and brought about our nation's independence. Our nation's founders chose "Old Glory."
In college I was taught about the misunderstanding that exists over the term "symbol." A symbol does not merely represent a concept or event. A symbol is that concept or event. A banner that is hung on our wall to show support for our favorite sports team, for example, would not fall under the same definition. When we raise the American flag, we do so with reverence, with national pride and unity. It is the embodiment of the ideals our Founding Fathers sought, fought for, and won. Whether it is raised at home or abroad, whether hung from the side of a condominium, or handed to a young boy just freed from a concentration camp, the flag is freedom. The flag is liberty. The flag is the United States of America.