Fourth of July musings on symbols, patriotism, and identity
Sketches of ideas for the JP Green House exterior all include banners, signs, and flags at our request. This reflects our plan to unearth the former corner store that used to be housed in the “flatiron” triangular building. It’s also a means of advertising our demonstration project and a good fit with our civic purpose, to serve as a community center and climate campaigning “hub” for 350.org.
The kids will enjoy making their own banners as well — indeed, their after-camp project today is to design a poster for the JP Green House Kids’ $5 Lemonade Stand & Mini-Toboggan Run/Water Slide planned for the weekend. Andrée and I have cautioned that they may not see many takers at that price, but I forget that five dollars isn’t quite the grand sum it was when I was a kid.
As in this early sketch by neighborhood architects Bill MacIlroy and Nancy Shapiro, we plan to have a couple of flag poles above a storefront sign, with banners on each side and a neighborhood bulletin board.
But what flag or flags to fly?
Flag-flying, like bumper stickers, is an expression of personality and identity, which also, in the aggregate, helps define a community. The journey from Jamaica Plain to Roslindale (the JP Green House sits smack on the line between these two Boston neighborhoods) is marked by a decline in rainbow flags and Tibetan prayer banners and an upsurge of shamrocks and American flags.
It has always struck me that the liberal/progressive rejection of the American flag (traceable to anti-Vietnam protests, I assume) has had a subtle but nonetheless powerful impact on U.S. politics. Refusal to show the flag is an eloquent expression of deep ambivalence toward America and a huge boon for conservatives and the Republican Party. It was a move of genius for the Obama campaign to employ a logo that evokes the flag, yet subverts the formula by dropping stars and choosing slightly off-true colors.
At this moment in history, facing immediate crises and the looming weight of climate cataclysm, I think it’s time to reclaim our flag as a symbol of national bonds stronger then partisanship, as an affirmation of those parts of the American character on which we must rely if we are to face the terrible danger before us, and as an expression of the true, lasting, and revolutionary founding principles of the nation.
On this Fourth of July, we will proudly fly the American flag at the JP Green House … right next to a bold banner proclaiming “$5 Lemonade.” What could be more American?
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