Emblems of Activism:

Having the Balls to Carry the Banner

There is a banner, tattered by the bombs of war, shredded by the sand-sweeping winds of time. It’s face has borne words like “Don’t Tread On Me,” “Spirit of ’76,” and “Semper Fi,” and symbols like the ecology theta and the peace sign, and yes, spangled stars and stripes.

These emblems of activism can be seen everywhere, on t-shirts and lunch pails, on car bumpers and school notebooks, on mailboxes and even underwear and toilet paper. Their ubiquitousness says more about the way they regard them than what the symbols on flags themselves represent.

Banners are only a metaphor, imbued with a combination of whatever meaning their creators expressed and whatever belief those who regard them can understand. That’s what made Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo of U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima so powerful. It’s not just a message; it’s a medium.

Imagine the flag as a thought or a principle or a belief created to reach people and be seen. We do that by tying it to the top of a flagpole. The pole is the exclamation point, a declaration of that belief. More people see it now that it’s on a pole. Like hurricane warning flags, it communicates its intended message. That’s fine for those who are close enough to see the banner, but what about those who are too far away to see it? We broadcast a flag in three ways.

One is by building a taller flag pole and proportionally enlarging the banner, but then the increased audience is limited by its understanding because although they may be able to see the banner, they may not be close enough hear its imagery defined. Plus, even a gargantuan flag on a Babel size pole can only reach a certain distance before it disappears below the horizon.

The second way to broadcast the flags meaning is to make lots of little flags on little poles and scatter them like grass seeds to the corners of the globe. Well, whatever part of the message isn’t filtered out by the communities, families and individuals where they end up will, at least, get out there. But all those baby symbols are merely representations of the primary flag, and meant to inspire through facsimile. Just as the Jesus-on-the-Cross in a church is not Jesus himself, but meant to represent people’s belief in the meaning of his death, so too these little flags are representations of the original thought or belief. To borrow another religious example, Haj and other pilgrimages are embarked on as a recognition that the power is in the original manifestation of the ideal.

Third (and this is the one I like the best), you can pick up the banner, carry it from town to town, and say, “If this speaks to you, then follow me.” And that, dear readers, is ACTIVISM. Whoever carries the banner is responsible for spreading the message with which it is imbued. Their commitment to that message is what keeps that flag up, and holding the flag up re-enforces the message. (Think Cindy Sheehan.)

Now, the problem comes when the flag carried through the wilderness to arouse the people’s faith is planted in the promised land of Washington, DC, as if to declare, “It is done!” That seems to me what is going on today. It’s the Democrat’s version of “Mission Accomplished,” but without the aircraft carrier and W’s symbolic flight suit landing. We have done nothing. Nothing is over. This is not a plateau; it is a step. We need our leaders to pick up the dang flag and carry the message everywhere and always.

By the way, the flagpole I carry has the stars & stripes, the peace sign and the Prose and Thorn logo. You better believe it!


One thought on “Emblems of Activism:

  1. I still think flags are creepy, but I like this post. Keep up the good work – I’ve been enjoying these.BTW – thanks too for the banner on your sidebar. I snagged it for my own use (grin).


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