On Nov. 11, 2016, we climbed the stairs in front of the anti-Trump post-election rally at Wesleyan University and painted “AMERIKKKA” on an upside down flag. A video of the event shared online has received over 20,000 views, as well as 200 comments and 100 shares, most of which express a combination of confusion and anger. The many online comments that threaten violence and refer to us as dykes, pussies, and cunts, are serious and violent. But at this moment, more than ever, we feel that it is important to move through the fear we feel and not to let it freeze us. We stand by our actions. Because most of our commentary is not shown in the video, we wrote this article to explain our motivations.

The American flag consists of 50 stars for 50 states that exist on stolen indigenous land acquired through frontier homicide and settler violence, and 13 red and white stripes for colonies founded on and still profiting off of the commodification of African and Black slaves.

Burning and defacing the flag is a critique of what American patriotism and the American flag represent. It is an acknowledgment that patriotism is inseparable from American military culture which was created to keep white Christian men and their property safe. The United States is a nation-state that enacts violence domestically and internationally, as seen through the militarization of the police force and continued U.S. imperialism. The flag and American patriotism have been the driving values behind many of our wars abroad, as well as national security measures that violate and destroy communities within the boundaries of the United States. Challenging the flag is a critique of and an opposition to the values of violent patriotism, nationalism, imperialism, and American white supremacy.

Spray painting the flag was a demonstration of political speech. The “defacement” or even burning of a flag is protected under laws of symbolic (free) speech, as put forth by the Texas v. Johnson Supreme Court case in 1989. The backlash that we have received demonstrates that arguments about freedom of speech are actually often about what is being said and who has the “authority” to say it. “Defacing a flag” is not violent, and property destruction is not violent, especially if it is property that we own under a capitalist framework. 

But most importantly, we have questions for those who are angry at us. Why are you angry about this action if you are not angry about the flag being used in beer commercials or other potentially disrespectful situations? Why do you demand that free speech be protected in many cases but not in this one? What do you find so threatening about two women writing a word on a flag?

For a variety of reasons, many folks in America are scared at this moment. More than ever, it is important to lift up those who have always had to be brave, to listen to those who have known that Amerikkka is and has always been racist, sexist, and homophobic, and to challenge each other to become better organizers and community members. The word “radical” stems from the latin word for “root.” To have a radical vision for a more just world means to challenge and dismantle (and rebuild) structures in society at their roots, at where and how they were built. It is often difficult to imagine beyond what exists today, but we must push for an end to U.S. state-enacted violence, and never settle for empty unities rooted in fear or ambivalence.

Cunniff and Horowitz are members of the class of 2017.

  • Man with Axe

    Is the United States nothing more than the sum of its worst offenses? Does it get no credit for saving civilization from the Nazis? Or for opposing the hegemony of the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe? Or for developing an economic system and technology to bring billions of people out of poverty, and to give its people prosperity undreamed of in previous times?

    • ’17

      If it gets credit for any of that, it gets credit for all of its worse offenses. All or nothing, and then treated accordingly.

      • Man with Axe

        I agree. But the original essay seems to only want to acknowledge the bad. Every country has its bad chapters, and most are worse than ours. It is the narrow focus on only the US and only on its flaws that I object to.

  • Bob

    “To have a radical vision for a more just world means to challenge and dismantle (and rebuild) structures in society at their roots, at where and how they were built.”

    So you thought you would put your “radical vision” into play by supporting the ultimate establishment candidate? You know, the candidate who received most of her financial support (not to mention millions of dollars in personal enrichment) from Wall Street, national banks, big pharma, the military industrial complex, etc., etc.? You thought she’d ignore the quid pro quo her big money backers expected to instead implement your radical vision for social change? All I can say is….lulz.

    The true radicals voted for Trump. Not because of all the -ists, -isms, and -phobias that you see in Trump, but despite them. Sure a small minority of Trump voters are racists, etc., but most of them see Trump as our best opportunity in decades to end corporate-driven politics. We want OUR government to work for and represent the American people again. So we voted for a political Molotov Cocktail to burn down the corporate patronage system cultivated by BOTH political parties for the enrichment of political elites and their financial supporters. Trump is going to wreck shit! He’s an unguided missile sent to blow-up the crony capitalism that rewards lobbyists and political insiders.

    Just so you know, many of us wanted to support Bernie Sanders but the collusion between the DNC and HRC to rig the primary as revealed by Wikileaks killed that opportunity. Like Trump, Sanders did not carry the corporate baggage that weighed down every aspect of HRC’s campaign and personal life.

    Judging everything and everyone through your small number of social justice check-boxes blinds you to both nuance and “the big picture.” Democracy is messy. Get used to it. Social change occurs over time. Get used to it. That said, on the very rare occasion when radical change is possible, seize the opportunity. Learn from us true radicals. ;-)

    • ’17

      No radicals voted for Trump. Established racists or those complicit in racism did. Racism isn’t radical, it runs in America’s blood.

      • Bob

        Nope. America today is not the America of the past. Your critical theory cult leaders (a/k/a professors) have indoctrinated you into a flawed political ideology devoid of factual underpinnings. I hope Santa gives you a gift certificate for deprogramming for Christmas. ;-)

      • Hughlon Thornbury

        Just because you feel guilty about something doesn’t mean other people should, or that they are guilty of the things you are guilty of.

  • Sir Nigel Eton-Hogg

    “The American flag consists of 50 stars for 50 states that exist on stolen indigenous land acquired through frontier homicide and settler violence, and 13 red and white stripes for colonies founded on and still profiting off of the commodification of African and Black slaves.”

    Hahaha, this is some straight out of the “P.C.U.” script stuff right here. Is this shit even serious, or are you all taking a piss? Because it’s starting to sound more like dramatic hyperbole for humor’s sake at this point.

    • ’17

      The shoe fits. If it fits, wear it, don’t push it into the closet by calling it “hyperbole.”

      • Sir Nigel Eton-Hogg

        “If the shoe does not fit, you must correctly identify it as dramatic hyperbole, and nothing more.”

        –Johnny Cochran (I think)

      • DavidL

        ’twas a glove.

      • Sir Nigel Eton-Hogg

        ’twas intentional use of “shoe” in order to fit with the comment to which I was replying.

  • TheRatiocinator

    “Because we are whiny little attention-seeking babies” would have made for a much quicker read. This version wasted a lot of my time, while leading me to the same conclusion.

  • DKE Bro

    These clowns have no contribution to make to society. After Trump cuts off federal student loans for harboring illegals, it will become most amusing to watch them scamper home, wherever that might be.

  • DavidL

    Actually we stole some of it from the Mexicans, who had stolen it from the Native North Americans. The Native North Americans had been here for at least 12,000 years without feeling the need for a written language, nation states or other complex political organization, a political philosophy, systematic science and technology or a system of self defense other than warrior courage and the ability to move away from serious threats in a vast lightly populated continent. There was much to admire in their individual and tribal natures (apart from the propensity to violence, torture and human sacrifice that kept cropping up and their continuing skirmishing with rival tribes.) By and large they made do with the semi-nomadic agriculture, hunting and gathering that the vast continent permitted.

    The consequence of this less than dynamic approach was that they were largely defenseless when confronted by a vast wave of immigrants fleeing oppression and deprivation in their former homes. These immigrants proved to have far greater technological skill, and a more effective social and political organization than the earliest settlers. The result was inevitable. In achieving the result the conquerers did not have a moral sensibility that had progressed as far as their political and technical skills.

    Now, a century and a half after the conquest was completed, some of the inheritors of the conquerers feel guilt and remorse, which they display largely by being critical of other inheritors of the conquerers who, having either remote or missing connection to the perpetrators of the injustices, do not share the sense of guilt. Interestingly, neither the guilty or the non-guilty seem willing to make and significant personal sacrifices in the form of reparation. There is no surging flow of the private wealth of the guilty to the inheritors of the vanquished. The remorseful content themselves with expressions of disdain for past misdeeds and calls for collective political reparations that can never compensate the loss, and are highly unlikely to be approved by the majority of the inheritors of the conquerers. It ends up being moral theatre with little practical effect.

    Will Wesleyan liquidate its endowment, sell its campus and buy land for the current members of the native tribes? No it will not. Will Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown decimate their fortunes, first seeded in significant part by
    wealth from slavery and the slave trade, to pay reparations to African-Americans? Not a chance.

    The strong have displaced the less strong since Africans first emerged from the cradle of the human species and overwhelmed the Neanderthals. Similar struggles persist today, and the moral conduct of the strong towards the weak, while perhaps somewhat better than the Inca, the Aztec and the Mongols, remains unworthy of significant praise.

    Humility before God in penance for our moral weakness and blindness is out of favor at places like Wesleyan, where so many seem to believe that they are morally superior to the people of the past, and many of the present as well. Of course you are judging yourselves in proclaiming this superiority. This never works out the way people think it will.

  • Hughlon Thornbury

    More leftist blah blah blah to lie about what they feel gives them the right to touch and assault other people without their permission and to destroy and vandalize property that doesn’t belong to them.