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June 1, 2010

Freedom of Speech on the Beach

A man, probably in his late 30's, was walking along the San Diego beach yesterday donning an American flag bandanna around his neck and carrying an upside-down American flag.  Although he was handing out a DVD compilation of his own "research" to curious passers-by, his real motivation behind the upside-down flag was to demonstrate and spread his belief, as well as awareness, that the United States is in an ever-increasing state of distress.

The first we noticed the Flag-man, he was surrounded by police officers wearing shorts and helmets and riding ATV's of all shapes and sizes. (Might as well just pave the beach for these cops ... but I'll refrain from pursuing that tangent for the moment). I went down to see what was going on, and witnessed the police officers telling the man that he did not have to turn the flag around, but should.  Apparently the man had been surrounded by ruffians that did not appreciate (nor understand) the use of the international sign of distress, but rather viewed it as disrespect on Memorial Day.  The police officers informed the man that he was visually outnumbered, and so should turn the flag around for his own welfare.  The Flag-man abode.

After the officers dispersed, I approached the man to inquire of his purpose.  Another curious beachcomber, Olly, joined me in discussion with the Flag-man.  The Flag-man responded that his only goal was to spur curiosity and inspire thought, research, and questioning.  We were quickly interrupted by two visually intoxicated Marines.  The Marines told the Flag-man that his symbolic speech was insulting.  Olly quickly interjected that the Flag-man had every right to do what he was doing ... furthering that the war was being waged by those in power but only the poor (mainly minorities) were dying on the front lines...that the Marines were recruiting in the poorest neighborhood farmers' markets...in search of the most 'expendable' persons.  The Marines accused Olly of being prejudice -- ignorantly labeling him a "foreigner" (a deduction they had based merely on his accent; meanwhile Olly is actually a Muslim U.S. Citizen of over 20 years, once hailing from Morocco, who speaks five languages, and even trains military on foreign customs and language at various bases around the country).  The conversation quickly went to shit as the Marines began cursing at Olly and the Flag-man, continuously going off topic, and relating their utmost desires to shoot and kill people and embrace that blind brotherly love.

For me, any hopes for an intelligent conversation ended there ... right after one of the Marines told me how much he loved killing people.  He said that he could not wait to go to North Korea to kill as many people as he could.  He went on to say that the the current administration was doing a terrible job.  I responded with a knock on the previous administration, to which he remarked, "George W. Bush was the best president we ever had." Enough said.

The whole point of this fragmented story is to expose the warped view held by many of those in the Military -- as well as everyday citizens.  The Flag-man was attempting to embrace his constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech but rather was unjustly silenced by threats of violence by a crowd that refused to look past the upside down flag to the underlying sentiment that this Flag-man was trying to spread.  He wanted the packed beach to realize, as they enjoyed the beautiful day, that our country is in trouble and something needs to be done, and was told by officers of the law to stop for his own protection.  The Marines were the icing on the cake, as they demonstrated the ignorance, rage, and the ethnocentric disregard for human life which so plagues our military and dare I say, government.

"But Memorial Day is more than simply a day for honoring our fallen soldiers; it is also about remembering the ideals for which they gave their lives."    Happy belated Memorial Day all.