Alexandria, All Politics is Local

A Toast to the Flag

A Toast to the Flag. This is one piece of poetry, though a bit syrupy for my usual taste, and more patriotic sounding than I am known to go for, that always makes me feel good to be here in this great country and gives me pride in the flag. I first heard it in a very moving public ceremony at the Alexandria Scottish Rite Temple about a year and a half ago.

What is a flag? What is this thing I don’t mind people burning in order to express themselves, yet gets me choked up when presented by a National Sojourner and toasted in public? I have a strong sense of patriotism and national pride, yet I have never thought of myself as a flag-waving jingoistic person. I guess when it comes to the flag, things get a bit complicated.

The flag is a symbol of many things – democracy, truth, freedom from oppression – and yet it is still a symbol, meaning that it represents an idea and possibly different ideas to different people. People talk of the flag as if it is sacred. How sacred can something be if it simply represents an idea? The destruction of the cloth is not a destruction of the idea, yet people get quite upset when the flag is burned for some reasons but not for others. When I was a child it was more or less common practice to burn the flag if it touched the ground. This seems okay to most people but burning it in protest is not okay. To me, it’s the same thing.

Anyway, we have a pretty cool flag, get it now at the link.  But where did it come from?  And is it really based on George Washington’s coat of arms, as the legend goes?  Or is it the basis for the original United States ‘stars and stripes’? This week’s Mythbusting gets to the bottom of the DC flag.


As I think about the flag and the great meaning it has for me, I grow concerned about its use as a political tool, especially as election season is rearing its campaign-hatted head. Those of us in the DC area are no strangers to this. A common mistake is to assume that the guy with the flag is what we label “patriotic” and that patriotism has a standard, common definition we all agree with. Not much can be farther from the truth. Again, symbols have differing, even changing, meanings.

Let’s take a moment on this July 4th and consider what it means to revere a symbol as much as a lot of our culture respects the flag. What does it mean to you?