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Inverted Lapel Pins As Distress Signal

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Message Gabby Hayes

One day a person from Code Pink sent me an email suggesting that we should wear flag lapel pins upside down to symbolize the peril that our country is in. I've seen flags like that at rallies local and national, so this isn't an original idea--but instead of displaying the flag upside down in a demonstraton of peril (it is a recognized cry of distress), he wanted to wear the lapel pins upside down. That set into motion the following brief essay:

One day we will all live in pits under the ground, the whine of prairie winds will be an alien sound as we go about our subterranean tunnels. When we die, they will leave our bodies aboveground and tell frightening stories about why, in a few days, there is no meat upon our bones, and in a few weeks, no bones. By some it will be taken as proof that there is a God who takes us bodily to heaven--or hell. But others will develop a cult that worships coyotes and wolverines and other carrion eaters. We will be frightened of excessive brightness and over countless generations as the dimness falls toward eternal night, we will lose our vision entirely.

When I visualize a parade of people marching down the street with upside down lapel pins, I find it hard to imagine people on the sidewalk or more than a couple of feet away would be able to see the pin's orientation--and if they could see it, they would probably ascribe it to happenstance, coincidence, uneven friction with the moving fabric. If you use enormous lapel pins, maybe something on the order of two feet by three and a half feet, it could work, but at that size, you are probably dealing with actual flags rather than jewelry. And when an unsuspecting person sees an inverted flag, he will not think, "Oh, the international sign for distress" as you or I would but rather "I don't understand that strange thing they're doing and so I will take offense." Then violence, turning potentially sympathetic bystanders into enemies, and so on. It would be better to out-stars-and-stripes the opposition (for a long list of extremely meticulously laid out reasons that I just can't resurrect this morning). The flag is our flag--we defended it when they were wearing red coats and shooting at us, we defended it when they were wearing gray coats and shooting at us, we defended it when they were wearing black and brown shirts and shooting at us, and I expect we will continue to defend it now. It is our constitution--we wrote it to protect ourselves from people like them. It is our country. We let them remain after we defeated them time and again, and far from being grateful, they became fifth columnists and sabboteurs and made life hell for everyone. We mustn't cede the flag, the constitution, or the acreage. We must meet them banner for banner, fighting back unAmerican swill with the values that made America--from the first syllable uttered in debate. We can only lose if we forget who made the country, who saved the country time and again, and who made the country great.

Henry Ford is the only American mentioned by name in Mein Kampf. Ford's publication in Dearborn inspired the holocaust. Ford and Henry Booth (publisher of the Detroit News) and Charles Lindbergh (or so I am told) allegedly constituted a cabal dedicated to entering World War II on Germany's side.

One day I was waiting to meet with someone at Cranbrook Academy, the school Henry Booth founded to educate his children and the children of a few nearby auto magnates and other masters of the universe so they wouldn't have to mix with the children of us groundlings, talking to an instructor who was also waiting for an appointment.

As I often do, I was taking random shots with my digital camera, zooming in on the bounty of architectural wealth Eero Saarinen and his buddies sprinkled like fairy dust all over that elitists educational enclave. I zoomed in on the floor tiles, which I had just noticed were carefully and individually decorated with some kind of glaze.

I noticed that some resembled iron crosses. Then a few others came into focus and I stood up and exclaimed, "My God, the floor is covered with swastikas." A statement too tiny to see, walked over every day by hundreds of people who never bother to look down.

It's not a surprise that industrialists would embrace a cult that put corporations above the civil government, did away with unions, and elevated industrialists to a royal caste. But it is not American. It is perhaps more than unAmerican. It is antiAmerican.

I had a tie tack once that was a red maple leaf, which I acquired from a Canadian exhibit at some computer show. Half the time it was upside down. I never noticed. No one accused me of being antiCanadian or came running in response to my "m'aidez." No one ever suggested that I was making a derisive statement about the members of the Canadian government.

I think in a parade of people, upside down lapel pins would draw little notice, even if you pointed at them. You need something about two by three feet just to have it seen from the sidewalk. A small flag would be perfect, but flying it upside down will piss people off--it won't make them think. I get the symbolism. I've seen it at many rallies and protest marches. I knew from childhood that the inverted flag meant distress (learned it from a Lassie episode, I think). But people are dim and distracted, particularly the random sort of people who might stop to witness a parade. People like that are just going to feel confused and angry when confronted with something out of the ordinary they don't understand. I'm afraid a fight might break out or, worse, you'll end up alienating people en masse.

I think we can outdo the pallid, materialistic "patriotism" of the right and make the flag a symbol for feeding and educating children, caring for the sick and elderly, finding peaceful, creative solutions to problems at home and abroad, and taking responsibility for the mess we leave behind and cleaning it up.

Honestly, if we had dumped three trillion dollars on the right group of people in Iraq, don't you think they would have brought us the heads of Saddam and all of his henchmen? If we had dumped it on the right group of warlords in Afghanistan, wouldn't we be admiring bin Laden's chiseled features on a pike outside the white house now? That's because creative and intelligent use of money will win you the results you desire. Drunkenly staggering into a situation you don't understand without a plan or an endgame can't possibly win you desirable results.

We can co-opt patriotism very cheaply and easily. Damn it, that's OUR flag. That's OUR anthem. That's OUR constitution. If we stand up and demand it, we can have it back. Anything less than that is not enough.

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Adherent to the cowboy way, eschewer of four-letter words and dental care, founder of the hippie movement, and failed prospector, Gabby Hayes can be counted upon to point and say, "They went thataway," and to develop plans to cut them off at the (more...)
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