NOTE: I am not the same Matthew who wrote this letter. I just blogged about it. Apparently, a number of readers have been confused due to our identical first name.
I found the response of one of the protesters more enlightening than the editorial; it has yet to be published. He fails to support his logic places, relying on assumptions which may not be shared by his audience, but his candor and courage despite popular opposition are admirable.
(Credit: Bob Zannelli, who brought this to my attention)
When Joana and Irene Bastos (Observer, April 13, 2005) see someone not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, they see an act of disrespect. If they would open their eyes, hearts and minds, they would see an act of patriotic courage in the best tradition of the principles "for which it stands." They would also see how dangerous their own attitude is to the preservation of our freedoms.
When I sit out the McCarthy-era version of the Pledge, it is not because I do not care about, respect or love my country. Just the opposite, it is because I do.
Our country has taken many dangerous turns lately. We have given away many of our freedoms through the so-called Patriot Act. Radical elements threaten to turn our democracy into a theocracy. Groups the majority does not understand, like homosexuals, intellectuals and liberals, are regularly treated with scorn, contempt and disrespect.
America has become the world's only superpower, but instead of acting like a strong, confident nation, we are acting like children. I am sickened and appalled, and therefore it is not just my right, but my duty as a citizen to speak out. I do not do this for myself. I have nothing personally to gain and much to lose. I do it for my country because it is right.
Many of you may not agree with me. However, when you declare my protest out of bounds, you feed the process by which societies have destroyed their own freedoms and created tyrannies. You may think we Americans are different, but we are not. There is nothing new about this. We are no different than any society that has ever gone through its own tragic undoing. American "unity" is looking more and more like the "unity" that has led to every tyranny the world has ever known. It is reactive, unthinking, and contemptuous of dissent. It shouts slogans and reviles those who decline to participate in its rituals. It employs pretty symbols like yellow ribbons to make people feel good about an ugly war. It demands unquestioning conformity.
Whether a group is standing for the Pledge or raising an arm and shouting "Sieg Heil!," the process is exactly the same. You may not like that comparison. I do not like having to make it. You cannot reasonably acknowledge the evil of torturing people for dissent, and then on the other hand complain that dissent is out of bounds. A freedom is meaningless if no one ever uses it. If the current attitude continues to prevail, our freedoms will continue to be eroded, and we will become the very thing we have so long opposed.
I do not sit because standing is too hard, or because reciting the Pledge takes too long. It would be much easier to stand and not have people
telling me I am "unpatriotic," a Communist, or spitting on America. Most of these comments have not been made by students, but teachers and staff members, the adults who are supposed to be teaching us citizenship! Standing would indeed be a small act. Sitting is the big one.
My protest is to save my freedom and yours. The minute my protest is no longer respected is the minute all our freedoms begin to disappear.
That is why I do it. If you wish to criticize me for it, the least you can do is not misrepresent my reasons. If you cannot do that, you might ask yourself whether your own thinking might be the source of the disrespect, and a major part of our country's current problem.
Our freedoms are in serious trouble under the current administration. I ask every concerned citizen to help preserve our freedoms before they are lost.
EDIT by matthew: Fixed link to article, as they change URIs when the current issue changes.