Saving Old Glory

Innauguration attendees trample American flags while watching President Obama's address

After witnessing President Barack Obama’s inaugural address, I have to wonder if anyone else within in the sea of millions that the flooded the National Mall in Washington D.C. actually listened to what he said. During his address, he stressed selflessness and sacrifice, a return to common-sense values and a dedicated work ethic so that we as human beings, not just Americans, can halt the damages being done to our world. I was moved, touched by the voice of one of the most inspirational leaders of the twenty-first century, but I was disheartened and dismayed, absolutely appalled, when the crowd began to thin. I was upset because Obama’s address had seemed to fall upon deaf ears, I was upset because the historic, record-breaking crowd of supporters left a record-breaking pile of garbage in their wake, and none of them seemed to care.

One-hundred-thirty tons of garbage, to be precise. 130 tons of half-eaten hot-dogs, gloves, blankets, over-priced hand-warmers, disposable coffee-cups, miscellaneous Obama memorabilia and small American flags blanketed the grounds of the National Mall. One always expects trash during a party, and with 1.8 million people in attendance, this was without a doubt the largest crowd present for an inaugural address, but the plethora of trash left behind behind was absolutely absurd. Under the shadow of the Washington Monument, newspapers blew with the frigid winds like tumble-weeds rolling across an Arizona desert while little reproductions of our national colors were trampled by the mass of tourists and D.C./Metro area residents alike.

I still could hear the words of our new President echoing in my ears as the hordes elbowed their way out of the Mall, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

So, instead of incoherently screaming the man’s last name like some drunkard at a football game or buying a cheap, bootleg hat from a career crackhead, I looked at my feet and picked up the small American flag that I had been unknowingly standing on and I held it in my hands. It had been ripped in half, it was dirty; full of some mysterious muck that made me grimace in disgust, but I did not drop it. Instead, I knelt down and picked up another even filthier flag.

They were grimy, sullied and soiled; their once majestic white was now an ugly brown. Splotches of black shoe-markings were scattered, in no particular order, across their stars and stripes equally. I was unsure of what to do with them. I didn’t want to carry a couple of nasty looking flags around all day, but I couldn’t just let them fall back to the ground where they would continue to be carelessly trampled upon, or worse, thrown away and forgotten about like common pieces of trash. These were flags.

I looked up at the thinning crowd as I was shoved, prodded, and penetrated, and noticed that these small flags lay all about about the mall, broken, slightly shredded; already forgotten. They had been a symbol of pride and unity for about an hour, only to be be discarded like common pieces of refuse once Obama had finished his Inaugural Address and retreated to the relative safety and warmth of his new Presidential limousine. No one seemed to notice that the Capital now looked like a landfill for our symbol of patriotism, and the cruel ironies only multiplied as the veritable army of media-professionals began to pluck mindless “HOPE”-filled bystanders from the crowd, scrapping the bottom of the quotable barrel to fill a three column spread or a ninety-second televised report.

Just then, something came over me. Call it pride, nationalism, supernatural possession, whatever your word ‘de jour, but I had an armful of ugly little flags before I’d even noticed Aretha Franklin’s skull-devouring hat. Some still had their two-cent wooden poles, a lot of them didn’t; most simply hung by a thread or two. They were all weathered and beaten; my face twisted and contorted in every imaginable position with each flag I knelt down and dug bare-handed through piles of rubbish to rescue. I suppose that they were technically trash, but this trash wasn’t just my treasure, they were our treasures. A flag is a symbol, an image of who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. Thirteen stripes to represent the original thirteen colonies, fifty stars to show our solidarity as an ever growing union of states that, despite varying locales, still hold the same ideals to be just and true.

I scoured the grounds of the mall looking for anything with red, white and blue. I dove head first into bristled bushes and over-flowing trash cans, scrapped through gutters and the sea of frantic sycophants that had swarmed the MSNBC mobile studio (which easily held the biggest trove of mangled flags and shredded newspapers). Every flattened cardboard box, every poster, every sign was overturned in my effort to collect every last flag I could find. I wasn’t even sure what to do with them all, I only knew that these flags were far from trash and no-one, under any circumstance, is to ever let a flag touch the ground.

“Old Glory” was not the only set of colors that I found that day. A Bahamian flag, a Texan flag, an Iranian flag and a Brazilian flag each found their way in to my collection. I had eventually amassed so many that I began searching for large bag, which I found fairly quickly by simply bending over and reaching deep into sewer drain on Independence Ave. Pretty soon however, my “Bed, Bath and Beyond” bag of patriotism needed to be upgraded too as it became so full of holes from the small, wooden dowel rods that a few of the raggedy flags had begun to simply fall out and float away whenever a strong gust of icy wind would charge down the grounds, forcing me to shield my face and my flags. It wasn’t long until I came across a standard milk-crate, so I carefully set my bag inside and stuffed a few of the more loose flags deeper inside. I then lugged my colorful crate of tattered greatness around in my mission to find any and all flags until I could no longer walk. I fell to my knees and hung my head low, my long hair hiding the over-whelming disparity and filth that were now etched upon my chapped, weather-beaten face.

Over the course of my voluntary quest, I was mocked by soldiers, aristocrats, children, and tourists alike. However, it was these same types of people that would later come up to me during my darkest and filthiest hour (dusk) to personally thank and encourage me to continue on. A few shook my hand, others would ask for a flag, so I would happily look for the cleanest in my collection, a task which more often than not, took several minutes of digging and poking. My numbed, cracked and dry hands were left with an ample amount of splinters that I’ll be picking at for the next several days, but it seemed worth it to when Private First-Class grabbed me by the shoulder, and said, “Thank You” as he plucked a blackened and weathered flag with pride.

I was photographed several times by tourists, a photojournalist, and a woman who called me, “inspirational”. I was told them all that I was just, “doing a dirty job”. At the end of the day though, I still felt just as beaten and tattered as the flags that I cradled. I had collected hundreds of flags, but I still did not know what to do with them, so I resolved return them to the American Legion trailer that sat on the north-eastern side of the Mall, opposite the Smithsonian, as they were responsible for their original distribution.

As I carefully set down my crate of withered flags, I found an aide and asked what would happen with all the flags that didn’t get passed out, as well as those that I’d rescued.

“Oh, we’re probably just going to burn them later,” the aide replied casually as she shoved the remnants a hot-dog in her mouth, tossing its checkered, red and white wrapper to the ground.

The picture above was taken by Jonathan Miano, a photojournalist living in Chicago and originally appeared Jan. 20th, 2009 in the Naperville-Sun Times.
My crate of flags resting in the American Legion storage container at the end of the day.

Prelude to the Inauguration

On Tuesday, Barrack Obama will be elected as the 44th President of the United States and I plan on braving the frigid D.C. cold, 4 million tourists, and an unprecedented display of security and media professionals. Anyone who’s lived in D.C. long enough is used to these things, but I’ve never experienced them all at the same time. Obama is seen as a quasi-political messiah, he’s already got worthless coins endorsed by Montel Williams and cheap plates made by under-privileged Chinese children to prove his messianic authenticity. This coming Tuesday forgot change my address.

Sure, I donated $20 to Obama in February because I liked the calm and collected black guy that had the tenacity to begin running for president a full year before the party primaries had even begun. I’d never donated to a political campaign before; I’ll probably never do it again because I honestly despise getting physical mail, and these pan-handling bastards have more Spam than Hawaii on Christmas. Why the hell do they feel the need to harass me for Dollar after Dollar when the plethora of hand painted, uncirculated Obama coins are actually worth more on E-Bay? Couldn’t I just get a couple of those gold Washington/Obama/Double-Eagle’s and “donate them” to the Democratic Caucus, thereby calling the whole debt “square”? My television tells me that they’re family heirlooms, so that must make them more valuable than the Dollar now, right?

I’ve planned out a fantastic adventure. A trip that will take me in to the heart of the city for a bevy of interviews, videos, write-ups and live-blogs, except I’m not technically invited to anything. How typical. Sure I’m an American, I was born in this country and I even voted for the guy, but just like everything in America (and especially in D.C.) unless you have some serious cash to spend, you can’t really get anywhere.

I don’t mean to crash “the party”, I mean to get my story. I’m sure that somewhere, within the ludicrous number of people stupid enough to come to Washington D.C. in January, the media circus that’s undoubtedly going to antagonize anything with the faintest pulse, and the powerful presence of Police designated to intimidate, that I’ll find something moving enough to bang out about seven-hundred words of eternally useless, literary dribble. I’ll be the really estranged guy, over-caffinated, walking around in tattered leather jacket from a second-rate department store, chain smoking cigarettes without a sunny disposition or press-pass, but still calling himself a journalist, holding a pen and paper instead of video-camera.

An Irritating Sound

Those new Sirens that the D.C. Police use, the ones that make your brain vibrate, and your bones rattle are truly a modern marvel. The Rumbler Sirens maker says, “[its] vibrating tones provide feel with emergency warning sound” is seems like an absurd statement until your walking down the street and see a cop flying towards you, making you actually feel the dread of police presence instead of just the standard emotional drawback.

It makes me wonder, What’s next? Is this new siren capable of weaponization? Could tomorrows cops and G.I.’s be carrying Sonic-Rifles that make you compulsively shit your pants or rattle your brain until your head explodes? The thought of a weaponized “Brown Noise” is both hilarious and terrifying (unless you work for Fruit-of-the-Loom or sell washing machines that is).

I can see the merit that the police have with installing this on some their cruisers, though. I myself have grown accustomed to the high-pitched whines of emergency-service crews racing through city streets. It’s just something you inevitably adapt to when living in an city ripe with urban sprawl (if not you’ll probably go insane and begin shouting at innocent people from some umpteenth-story apartment window). More over, as people today tend to become lost in an audio abyss as they carry out their commute listening to iPods and car radios with sub-woofers, it seems pertinent to gain the attention of distracted motorists and mildly-deaf pedestrians for the benefit of society as a whole by any means necessary. It’s an emergency, after all, so wake up and get the hell out of the way.

I mean, I’d be kind of upset if I were laying in the back of an ambulance, hemorrhaging enough blood to rival old-faithful, while some prick in a Mercedes was too busy rocking down to Electric Avenue on a one way street.

Despite this, however, I can close my eyes and imagine police in riot gear shooting sonic waves at protesters. The scene would horrible: hordes of political dissidents shitting themselves uncontrollably as riot police bring protesters literally to their knees in puddles of their own crap. The smell would spread with wind, entire city blocks would be forced indoors as an irradiated stench smothers the senses.

“What if someones rectum prolapses?”, I wonder, “What if some poor old lady is shot with a sound wave and she just shits herself so hard that her anus literally falls out of her body?” Technically speaking, you can live if your rectum prolapses, but you’d undeniably be in a considerable amount of pain. Does this make it cruel and unusual punishment or effective, non-lethal crowd control? Is something that makes you wish for really death non-lethal?

Hundreds of Thousands Protest US Occupation in Iraq
Protesters represented varied causes, from anti-war messages to pleas for improved foreign policy and aid for needy countries. -photo by Tim Moraca

The following article originally appears in Volume 9, Issue 3, of the Montgomery Advocate , the student newspaper of Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, Tuesday, October 4th,  2005.

On Saturday, September 24 hundreds of thousands of protesters descended upon Washington D.C. for the United for Peace and Justice Mobilization and the Operation Ceasefire concert, the largest anti-war protest since the start of U.S. Occupation in Iraq. The protest drew a number of powerful and influential figures including Rep. Maxine Waters (D) of California, former Presidential candidate Ralph Nader, Rev. Jessie Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq and leader of the Bring Them Home Now Tour, a traveling protest aimed at bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, which coordinated it’s conclusion to fall on the same weekend.

“All of us have a central responsibility in America,” shouted an excited Nader to sea of thousands, “[George W. Bush] has neglected his responsibility…You are the opposition… It’s time to take that opposition [and] with laser precision, tell [your representatives] how you feel about the war. This is the first war opposed by a majority of the people…Here is a president who plunged our nation into the greatest quagmire in American history. George W. Bush must be held accountable [and impeached] for his crimes under Article 2 – Section 4 of the United States Constitution.”

“I am sick and tired of George W. Bush,” cried California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. “We are tired of being lied to,” she continued with a fist raised high in the air, “The U.S. doesn’t deserve a president who left poor people, black people, and white people stranded in New Orleans [to die].”

“Today is a call to action… he has lied over and over again,” Waters went on, “[He] lied when he said he would hold corporate C.E.O’s responsible,” referring to the Enron and Tyco scandals. “On 9/11 he tricked us into believing Saddam Hussein was responsible…I ask you, where are the weapons Mr. President? Then [he] lied again when he said we would be there for 6 months, we want truth Mr. President,” concluded Waters to a roar of applause, whistles and cheers from protesters.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke briefly and with a proud assurance, “There’s something wrong with our country when we send folks to help in places that don’t need [help]. We have problems that need [solving] at home…The question isn’t why should we walk out of [the] war, the question is why did we walk in to the war in the first place?”

Operation Ceasefire, a free concert that was held at the Ellipse on the same day sponsored by United for Peace and Justice and Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.), featured such bands as Thievery Corporation, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Le Tigre, and Bouncing Souls.

“I think the fact that they had a concert drew more people out,” said Sarah Owens, President of MC-R’s Philosophy Club, “[but] a lot of people may’ve just come for the concert. When asked if the concert helped the cause, Owens replied, “I think it was good in the sense that it helped people to see the message that a lot of the protesters had, I just think some people didn’t take it seriously.”

D.C. Police quoted the actual number of protesters as upwards of 150,000 people, but protest organizers claimed over 300,000. Some still think that screams and signs of protesters just weren’t loud enough. “I didn’t like the [lack of major media] coverage, Owens says,“With Katrina fresh on peoples minds, they used [hurricane] Rita to overshadow what was going on. There we other protests in other cities all over the world [that day], and [the major news media] kind of just said, ‘Oh, yeah, this happened today too.’ I just think it should’ve been a bigger deal.”

Despite the lack of coverage, many feel that overall goal was accomplished. When asked her opinion about the future of the war Owens replied, I’m really optimistic…I would hope it gets bigger, [but] it seems like people might get pissed off for a little while and then forget about it.”