Monday, June 29, 2015

Patriot Games - Bree Newsome's Awesome Act of Non-Violent Protest

Bree Newsome removes the Confederate flag last Saturday
The iconic photo taken on February 23, 1945 by Joe Rosenthal of six US Marines raising the 2nd American flag on Mount Suribachi on the fourth day of the Battle of Iwo Jima became more than a defining image of World War II.

The Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph came to symbolize American determination and sacrifice; 6,800 US servicemen lost their lives during the bloody 36-day assault and more than 26,000 were wounded. 

The massacre of nine innocent worshipers at the Emanuel A.M.E Church has galvanized a nationwide movement to finally ban the Confederate flag from flying above public spaces and government grounds and buildings in all 50 states.

It also inspired President Obama to deliver what could be the most emotionally stirring speech of his presidency during a Eulogy last Friday for South Carolina state Senator Clementa Pinckney; one of the nine victims of the Charleston massacre.

Bree Newsome's arrest photo
The President's words were truly remarkable in scope, content and delivery and, some might say, overdue.

But I'm not sure any one single act in the wake of such an unspeakable horror means as much as 30 year-old African-American social activist Brittany "Bree" Newsome climbing over the fence surrounding the flagpole flying the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capital building in Charleston, hoisting herself up thirty feet into the air with the aid of climbing gear and removing the flag.

The removal of the flag was planned by a racially diverse group of teachers and other activists who assembled peacefully early Saturday morning, in part, to ensure that the Confederate symbol was not flying over the statehouse during the funerals of victims of the Charleston massacre.

Newsome was helped over the fence by fellow white activist James Tyson, like Newsome a 30 year-old Charlotte, North Carolina resident and both were arrested and taken into custody following the incident.

Sadly, state employees raised the flag back up the flagpole just in time for a scheduled 11am protest held by white supremacist supporters of the Confederate flag; ironically it was a black state employee who raised the Stars and Bars back up the flagpole.

Newsome and Tyson were released from custody not long afterward and it didn't take long for over $120,000 to be raised online to pay for their bail and any legal costs associated with their act of non-violent protest.

Earlier today, Newsome spoke movingly about her "crisis of faith" and the feelings that motivated her to take the course of non-violent protest she took after the massacre in Charleston.

Filmmaker Michael Moore agreed to personally foot the bill for any legal fees associated with a trial, but there's already a petition being circulated by calling for the state of South Carolina and the city of Charleston to drop any trespassing charges or charges associated with defacing government property leveled against Newsome and Tyson.

You can click this link to add your voice to the petition which has already garnered more than 35,000 signatures.

There's also a petition calling on the South Carolina state legislature to remove the Confederate flag that's attracted almost 570,000 signatures - click here to sign that one too.

Marines raising the 2nd US flag over Mt. Suribachi, 1945
In the same way Joe Rosenthal's iconic photo of US Marines raising the American flag over Iwo Jima in 1945 (pictured left) symbolized the best of what this nation was about in a global conflict to eradicate wide-scale human suffering, I feel the image above of Bree Newsome bravely taking down the Confederate flag in front of the statehouse of South Carolina also defines what the best of this nation is about.

The photo of her climbing that flag pole symbolizes a revitalized national movement to relegate the Confederate flag to the museums where it sat for decades after the Civil War until groups of  pro-segregationists in the south decided to re-adopt it as a symbol of defiance against the Civil Rights movement in the 1950's and 60's.

Bree Newsome's actions symbolize the overwhelming desire of Americans of all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds to finally banish this symbol of hate, division and oppression from public display in government buildings or facilities.  

In the same way the photo of the Marines raising the American flag during a war for freedom became one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century, perhaps the image of an African-American woman scaling a flagpole to take down the flag of the Confederacy will come to represent the 21st century battle against bigotry, prejudice and racial hatred.

A war of the mind, body and spirit that we as a nation have been fighting for far too long.

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