Thursday, July 9, 2009

Airing my own Dirty Laundry

I've always been fairly vocal and political, so it is probably unsurprising that some of my teenage opinions found themselves in the local paper and are now online, in a nice sort of permanent-record way. So, in the interest of full online disclosure, here's the article.

Now, I stand by my 16 year old self. I've said many times on this blog that I believe in youth rights, that I think the voting age should be lowered, and that youth free speech matters. And I say this well aware that this is my example of youth free speech:

At the other end of the spectrum is Albuquerque High School junior Kelsey Atherton, who not only refuses to say the pledge, but stands facing the opposite direction. Sometimes he says different words or makes additions to the pledge. When it comes to "under God," Atherton says "under god/s, under goddess/es, or lack there of."
Atherton says he stands backward because he is angry about Bush's re-election and the war in Iraq. "Absurd" is the word he uses to describe the war and the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina. He makes additions to the pledge to focus on what he sees as a narrow interpretation of God. The pledge should have either no religion or more inclusive language, he says. He even goes so far as to compare it to fascist chanting.
There are explanations for all of these; I'll go briefly through each one.
  1. "Under God/s and/or Goddess/es or lack thereof". I'm Unitarian. I have always been aware of a plurality of beliefs and belief systems, so the adoption of a formal procedure in public school to honor a very narrow interpretation of God, perhaps more broad than the Abrahamic Deity but not terribly so, is offensive as it alienates. It excludes the diversity that we as a nation cherish and celebrate, so that's why I tried to be more inclusive with my coverage of religion in the pledge. ALSO - it throws the meter of the pledge way off to say it, which helps highlight the fact that even "under God" throws off the pledges meter. "Under God" is a Cold War edition to the pledge urged by the Knights of Columbus as a way to further distinguish the US from the secular philosophy and government of Communists, specifically the USSR. The Cold War is over; if we are to still have a pledge, we don't need it to contain that.
  2. We don't really need a pledge. It is a weird national ritual, and it seems like the kind of thing we as a nation make kids do because they are too young to question it, and powerless enough to not object to it. While it isn't actually a bad thing to say (I have a copy of the original, pre-"under god" version in my room), I think it is a bad thing to ask people to say when they don't know what it means. That, to me, makes it fascistic - it asks for unquestioning devotion to a symbol of a nation, and then to the nation itself, does so with a divine mandate, and it is as a matter of course done nationally by children who can get in trouble for not joining it. That's disturbing, and it is kind of what kings do. We as a nation were founded on loyalty requiring consent - we left a nation that had abused our loyalty, and we fought a war with them because they were surprised we'd questioned the arrangement. Ritual, unexamined chanting does not have a place in our democracy.
  3. Protesting the Presidency of George W. Bush. I've never denied my partisan identity, and I will stand by my belief that George W. Bush is among the worst presidents this nation has ever had. While I disagreed broadly with most of his policy decisions, Iraq and Katrina stand as failures that go beyond policy approach. The Iraq War has a long litany of problems - foremost in my mind is how destabilizing and unnecessary it was, and how poorly planned it was. As for Katrina, it was the exact kind of natural disaster that we as a nation should have been able to handle. I sincerely think presidential neglect played a part in the destruction, alongside many, many other factors. So that's why I felt the need to have a symbolic protest. But the question will come to my choice of the pledge as forum for protest.
  4. The Pledge in Public schools is almost-tailor-made for petty dissent. It is short, daily, and overtly national. It's done during homeroom, which is a dead time in the academic day anyway. It is done amongst a group of peers. All of these facilitate the use of the pledge as a way to express a political opinion, with a minimum of effort, to one's peers (among whom one's opinion is important), without causing any substantive problems. I did it because I was upset (as many teenagers are), but also because I was upset politically (as I can be), and because I really, really needed to show that I was intellectually not on board with the leadership and actions of my nation. And that hurts, to care about a nation and feel so alienated from it's conduct that even joining in a morning ritual becomes hard. That's a political opinion that matters, and I'm pretty sure that the pledge is as good a forum as any to voice it. It did exactly what I needed a symbolic gesture to do, and it helped me keep my head through the other inanities of high school. That, I think, is reason enough.
And so it's out there and acknowledged. A political young adult was a political teenager. And while I deliberately try to be less aggressive, alienating, and partisan now, I think my actions as a youth were justified, were appropriate, and played a valuable role in shaping my present political identity.

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