Senator Hillary Clinton recently introduced legislation to criminalise flag-burning, likening flag burners to Ku Klux Klan cross burners. She argued that the civil-rights offence of burning crosses and black people was equivalent to burning the flag. (Burning the flag has mostly been the act of those who protest against violence.)
The American flag is a Janus-like eagle. On the one hand, it is a bird of prey that organises the bubbling forces of economic insecurity and fear of attack into violent behaviour and paranoid organisational life. The other eagle is the one that the poet Ferlinghetti wrote about in the early 1950s. He, too, could feel the bubbling amid the McCarthyism and unreconstructed racism, and felt in it the possibilities that were gradually to emerge in the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement andEugene McCarthy’s decision to step outside the lockstep of Congress and respond to, and call for, the public’s awareness and higher purpose.
“I am waiting…
for the deepest South
to just stop Reconstructing itself
in its own image…
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “waiting” was not a passive stance. It spoke to his sense of connectedness with the bubbling discontent rising in America. And he felt the forces of reaction raging like a staff infection through the body politic, and he anticipated that a new era was imminent.
As we enter 2006, the Democratic Party is in hiding behind its belief that the erosion of democracy is a necessary price to pay for staying in the political game. Hence, new limits on habeas corpus, exemptions on torture (even in the McCain bill) and the intrusion of Pentagon operatives into the domestic surveillance. Health care guarantees remain an anathema, and corporate corruption is treated like an itchy pimple, rather than the deep-seated destructive force that it is.
At the same time, the forthcoming 2006 elections will continue to bring into office young and progressive local elected officials, who are rebuilding the Democratic Party from the bottom-up, and who are reinventing government as an agent for addressing the health, jobs and environment issues that face communities all over the country. I certainly don’t expect the Congress to shift dramatically in 2006, but I think the forces for change will express themselves even more strongly in the cities and counties of America.
And I too, like Ferlinghetti, am waiting…for the American Eagle to straighten up and fly right.