It’s time to lay separatist symbols down

To the Editor:

I am writing, two weeks after my previous letter to the Rensselaerville Town Board, in support of the proposed measure to condemn the display of the Confederate flag in Rensselaerville.

I am also writing to make clear that this has nothing to do with me, or April Caprio, or Lane Stannard. I am extremely disheartened to see a matter of social justice, again, reduced to personal insults, irrelevant to the principle at hand, hurled amongst neighbors.

I’m even more disheartened and dismayed that my letter to the town board, a civil action, has been construed such that local residents have suggested protesting my house, and Black neighbors feel less safe in their homes because the division has emboldened active racists, not just rebellious “Dukes of Hazzard” and Southern rock fans.

Rather, supporting a measure to condemn the Confederate flag in our town has everything to do with: 1) the history of the Confederate flag; 2) its designed intent to divide Americans; and 3) having compassion for those who experience real trauma when confronted by the Confederate flag, even if we don’t totally understand it, and surrendering the flag out of mutual respect.

Being Hilltowners, a lot of us can commiserate about memories tied to a certain 1969 Dodge Charger, particular songs on the juke, and well-intentioned, endearing but less-informed country boys of the ol’ days.

This is 2020, though (for better, or worse). You’re not still torturing yourself getting into your jeans from 1969, are you? It’s time to give the Confederate flag a rest, too.

Does our emotional attachment to the Confederate flag really trump our neighbors being subjected to reliving the generational trauma of slavery, Jim Crow, and lynchings? Or sustained fear for their own safety?

Because, that’s the sting of the Confederate Flag to a very large portion of America. It might not be all of our experiences, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

It was never my intention to further divide our community when I wrote the town board a couple weeks back. I take the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s quote to heart, which was in the news quite a bit recently with the passing of his unlikely friend, Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people.”

I wrote the board to encourage them to condemn the Confederate Flag as a step towards uniting our community by finally laying a symbol of division to rest.

The last thing we need these days is more division. Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

And right now, our nation’s house is a wreck. We have already embarked on perhaps the most unprecedented and contentious election in American history — we can’t afford to be pitted against ourselves. More than ever, it’s time to pledge allegiance to American principles, and lay separatist symbols down.

In compromise, can we all reflect upon how we may each have room for improvement, humble ourselves, and concede something? I, for one, concede that I should have waded into this particular proposal with more care and consideration.

Nonetheless, on principle, and in the midst of an unwitting but meaningful local policy window, I encourage the board to adopt a measure formally condemning the display of the Confederate flag in Rensselaerville.

People, parties and personalities aside, I implore you to please consider these points with an open and objective mind:

— 1. To many people, the Confederate flag is a symbol of the racist institution of slavery much like the swastika represents the Nazi party. Whether or not that is your perspective, it’s a real point of view that deserves respect. Displaying a swastika is punishable with three years in prison in Germany. We are only asking for a condemnation — not a sentence; 

— 2. We, as a nation, denounced the Confederate flag in 1865 when the United States won the Civil War. Why should we accept any less, or water that down, in 2020?;

— 3. Overtly displaying a symbol of racism interferes with neighbors’ right to safety, liberty, and quiet enjoyment of their property — much the same way that yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, or setting off backyard fireworks at 3 a.m., infringes upon proximate citizens’ liberties;

— 4. Overtly flying a Confederate flag may adversely impact home values of nearby properties for sale by decreasing market demand, and could be held as a takings;  

— 5. There is local precedent to regulate signage along highways in our zoning code; 

— 6. The fact that the Confederate flag, like slavery and racism, is part of our past does not necessitate defending it as part of our future;

— 7. Even the state of Mississippi is laying its old flag to rest and designing a new one to address the damage inflicted by imagery of the Confederacy; and

— 8. Confederate flag sales spiked and have remained historically high since the 2017 Neo-Nazi rally and hate killing in Charlottesville. What do we interpret this to mean?

There are a lot of good reasons to give up and condemn the Confederate flag. The real question is, on what principle are we defending it?

Sign the petition to condemn the Confederate flag in Rensselaerville here:

Sarah Gordon


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