Friday, March 17, 2017

The Flagpole of Spurn/Squat

There’s this flagpole on our campus that seldom flies a flag—of any kind. On graduation day, an American flag is hoisted up the mass of straightened metal and flies for the day. I’m told that it flies again sometime in the summer when Girls State is in town for the week. So, in all, it might fly a flag for a total of 1 week out of the entire year.

This flagpole of spurn is located in front of our gym which is also the same building of the art offices and classrooms. This January, my office was moved to the art department and it was then that I became acutely aware of the flagstaff’s abandoned state.

I contemplated its under-appreciated existence several times as I pulled up to the building on my Sears single-speed bicycle in the mornings. And then slowly, I started considering the idea of what it would take to dress it up—short of requiring the attendance of a color guard everyday.

These thoughts were totally innocent and had nothing to do with making a statement when it comes to flag-flying. It was a proposal rooted in bringing color to an empty and under-appreciated space on our campus—nothing more. However, if someone had accused me of being “politically correct” in this proposal, I suppose I would have absorbed that charge as well.

Flag Laws
The first thing I did was look into the legality of flying a non-American flag on a college campus. I didn’t think there was anything illegal about it, but nevertheless I did a bit a googling.

There were a few things I didn’t know and many things I already knew. The new knowledge I gained about flag flying had to do with the flag-flying laws of each state—and almost all of it was in the context of the American flag. For example, did you know that…

• On Memorial Day, the flag is to fly at half-mast until noon.

In my search to find anything wrong with my proposal, I found only the following:

• The American flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution.

• In North Dakota, public display of other than the U.S. flag, a State flag, or flag of a friendly foreign nation is prohibited.

• In California, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Idaho the display of the red flag or any other flag in a public place is prohibited. A plain red flag is associated with socialist or communist rallies—think International Workers’ Day. It is also an unofficial symbol for socialism, communism, and left-wing politics—going all the way back to the French Revolution.

However, when it comes to Wyoming, I could only find the following: “prohibits state military organizations from carrying other than U.S. flags.”

The Proposal
Following my semi-exhaustive research into any flag laws that might bite me in the arse, I sent my proposal out in an email to the campus community:

If there are no objections, the Art Department would like to be the caretakers of the flagpole in front of Cabre Gym. In case you’re wondering, it only flies a flag (the American and Wyoming flag) on graduation day. We would like to give it something else to do for the remainder of the academic year (perhaps even summers) as well.

As its caretakers, we would like to fly a number of different flags—a new one every week if we can muster it. National flags where some of our students come from, other states where our students come from, professional organization flags that are active on our campus, flags that represent humanitarian causes, and of course, flags that simply celebrate art—hopefully generated by our students. (Hey Del Nose, how about sending us a NIRA flag for this spring?) We’ve even considered having a contest to see who can identify a not-so-common flag now and then.

And fear not, we’ve established a checks and balance system: any flag that flies must be agreed upon by all members of the Art Department before it is hoisted up the pole.

Lastly, during the entire week of graduation, we agree to fly Old Glory and the Wyoming flag only while lowering them each day at sunset (unless we get lights for it).

So, if you have a flag that you believe is worthy of this cause and you’d like to see it fly in front of Cabre Gym, send it our way and we’ll fly it some upcoming week. Let’s put some colorful leaves on that tall, gray tree.

—Morgan Tyree
Asst. Prof. of Graphics

The Reception
As expected, the responses from this timid, little campus were few—probably about five percent of the entire campus faculty and staff (if that). The first responders were all very favorable. But one community member was against the idea unless there was another flagpole. Another chimed in saying that flying other flags “would be asking for some unwelcome response.” One staff member wondered if the flagpole and whatever flag was flying might “become a bully pulpit for any particular way of thinking.” He also asked, “Is the Art Department willing to offend both sides by giving equal time on the pole?”

But the biggest stink came from a middle-management administrator, who was vehemently opposed.

Despite her opposition and informing me that it was illegal, she proved to be no better than our President Trump when it came to citing facts. Here’s the back and forth via email that transpired.

She said:
I do have an issue with other country’s flags being flown on the American soil without the presence of the Old Glory….it is downright disrespectful and I take offense to it.

There is a code of conduct when it comes to displaying other nations’ flags on American soil….as was suggested in your email regarding international students’ country of origin flags being displayed without the American flag. 

There is a code of conduct when it comes to flying the American flag and as Americans we need to respect the symbol of our nation.  Keep in mind the people of this community provide financial support to our College and I am sure many will be offended if they don’t see the Old Glory respected properly.

You may want to refer to U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7 regarding the display of other nation’s flags on American soil.

My response:
I couldn’t disagree with you more. There’s no law that says you can’t fly another flag of nationality on a Wyoming college campus. Those laws have to do with flying other nation flags alongside the American flag. The flagpole in front of Cabre Gym is not an “American only” flagpole. This isn’t about being disrespectful to the American flag or marginalizing it in any way, and I’m sorry if you take it that way. It’s simply about flying other flags for the sake of brightening up a campus eyesore. But, if there’s enough noise about this, it’ll stay barren because I don’t have the energy for making this into a political/patriotic debate.

She said:
There are laws ESPECIALLY for public buildings such as our College and it would be beneficial for you to research it a bit.

My response:
Show me the language. Cut and paste it.

She said:
Research flag code for the state of Wyoming

My response:
This is all I’ve uncovered…

Wyoming “prohibits state military organizations from carrying other than U.S. flags.” See section on “forbidden flags” by state.

She said:
Research further on the code regarding the flag for public buildings.

My response:
Quit wasting my time. You show me. You say it’s there, cut and paste it for me.

She said:
As a scholar you know how to research so enjoy researching. : )

My response:
I’ve looked and found nothing that verifies your claim. Time to put up or shut up about it. Prove me wrong.

She said:
Morgan, I don’t appreciate your rudeness towards me. Your email started with “if there are no objections”…….I had objections and shared them with you in a civil manner and have tried to hold a discussion with you. I don’t appreciate being told to shut up.

My response:
My apologies, but you still haven’t supported your claim.

She said:
Morgan, whenever I want to start any project, I make sure to do my research before I present it.  I am not obligated to prove anything. However since this is your project, the burden is on you to do thorough research.

My response:
Ha! So, you really have nothing. I shared with you the little bit of related research I could find on this subject. The onus is on you now to prove otherwise since you have disagreed with my findings—skimpy as they may be. I’m sure if you really had something concrete and convincing, you would have schooled me properly on matters of research by now—which I would humbly accept. You would have done well to simply object on your own merits without referencing some obscure/mysterious/non-existent flag law that you are unable to verify.

She said:
you made me laugh out are funny :)

My response:
You’re pretty hilarious too.

What a time-waster. In the end, having this “civil” discourse with one of my educational colleagues was an educational bust. Instead of just simply saying that she would find it offensive, she defended her blind patriotism with a made-up-in-her-mind flag law, all the while citing the importance of doing educational research. Yet, in the end, she couldn’t produce a shred of evidence that backed up her claims. Reminds me of a defenseless parent who resorts to saying something like, “Do what I say, not what I do!” 

A part of me has embraced this outcome because it’s pretty much what I expected from such a weak-kneed and unimaginative community (as a whole). All it took was a minuscule, but vocal few to drown out whatever numbers of quiet support there may have been.

No doubt I should have listened to a friend who texted me and told me to stay out of it with the following…

I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer here, but if you’re serious about a career move you don't need to be distracted by shit like this. Focus grasshopper. If you’re getting out of NWC, it’s time to turn your back for good. Don’t post this flag stuff on your blog either. And yeah, I expected some sort of reaction like this when u told me about it. 

And, I don’t always make the right choices either. 

Folding it up
In the end, I suppose it’s truly symbolic (since we’re talking about flag-flying) of this community that an empty, barren and cheerless flagpole turns out to be preferred over flying a few harmless rags of color. Think about that symbolism.

Ironically, this brief discourse has come and gone with very little input from a significant membership of the community—it’s students. But, since the newspaper has been taken down, what other means do we have to engage the student population on such matters?

There’s much to read into about a community that is hesitant/unwilling to fly any flag other than the national flag. Perhaps they don’t want to be labeled unpatriotic, but if I were a betting man, it strikes me as textbook xenophobia. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s a fine line between the two.

Lastly, in contemplating political correctness, in the run-up to Donald Trump’s presidency, he and his followers in the national spotlight railed on the whole political correctness “thing,” claiming it was getting in the way of looking out for America’s best interests (albeit “White America”). I wouldn’t have thought the same message would resonate so far down the food chain to our minuscule, local level—but indeed, it has.

1 comment:

Duane said...

The trump mentality lives on. . . Your administrator didn't need facts. Just a belief.