Protests have been forming all over the country and the world, with people taking a stand against United States President-elect Donald Trump. Peaceful protests can be effective in facilitating change, but actively creating contention will get you nowhere. A majorly controversial part of these protests has been the burning of the American flag. Although it is legal and your right to do so, this action will not help your cause. In fact, it will do the opposite. People will be less likely to listen to what you are trying to support if you are disrespecting something they hold dear to their hearts.
The point of a protest is to get your voice heard, to create change and to have opponents see your point of view. If you are taking the American flag and burning it to make a point, you only create more distance between your movement and the people you want to have listen to you. You will not get any endorsement of your position by degrading what many Americans believe represents the honor and dignity of this country. It is a symbol. It can be compared to killing a bald eagle in the name of your protest — another American symbol — and people will react angrily. They will not be willing to listen to you.
Protesters have recently burned the flag to express their anger toward our current administration. By burning the flag, they’re attempting to generate enough drama for people to take them seriously. But this isn’t a respectable way to gain legitimate attention. It seems like the people burning the flag don’t understand the true symbolism it represents. If you don’t understand the significance of burning the flag, you should not be doing it. There are many other ways to spread your vision for change.
I have heard the argument that symbolism is not as important as civil rights. I agree with this, but burning the flag isn’t going to correct problems or cause change. What burning the flag for protest purposes will do is create more anger, more separation and more negative thinking toward your goals. Protesting shouldn’t be geared against America the country, or the symbol of the good it represents, but against the current people and policies with whom you disagree. Burning a flag in the name of protest is like protesting against the traditional Democratic Republic that has served as the foundation of one of the greatest countries in the world.
What it comes down to is knowledge and life experiences. I would like to ask people who are using flag burning as activism if they have ever seen a killed-in-action soldier’s casket come home from overseas. Have they witnessed the casket coming off the plane with an American flag draped over it, as the family stands there wishing they could see their son or daughter one last time? Have they been to a military funeral when a folded American flag is handed to a mother who just had to bury her child? Have they watched a widow try to explain to her child why Dad isn’t coming home? Imagine going up to that parent or widow and telling them you want to burn that flag to protest a president you don’t particularly like. You want to take that flag, which now represents their dead child or spouse, and burn it. You want to burn that flag and openly protest because of rights their dead child/spouse, and others like them fought to protect.
As a veteran, the flag represents something more to me because of the deaths of the many it represents. To many Vietnam, Korea, WWII, Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, the flag was and is a symbol of hope that the wars won’t last forever, and that active soldiers will be able to return home to their country with honor. No matter your stance on the military or on war, many men and women have died to protect your right to protest. In their place is now a triangular blue field of stars visible through a wooden shadow box.
The question doesn’t concern so much whether you have the right to burn the American flag, because you do. The question is, what is your point in burning the flag? Peaceful protests are wonderful. Standing up for what you believe in is part of what America is all about. But if you are attempting to get the respectful attention of those opposing you, why create more anger? If you want your voice to be heard, come up with ways for people to listen to you without stirring up anger and resentment. That is the only way to protest respectfully and effectively in our America. That is the way to create change.