Nestled in our cozy cul-de-sac, an always-pristine American flag flies over the house in which I’ve lived my entire life. My dad replaces the flag at least once a summer, ensuring it is clean and cared for. It never needed to be said — I always knew that the flag was something that deserved my respect.

The flag represented the country that welcomed my grandparents and great-grandparents as immigrants. The country that allowed them to make homes for themselves here and eventually give their kids, and their kids’ kids, lives that were better than the ones they had known at home. It also represented a place where I could continually benefit from their decision to come here.

Recently though, my perspective on the flag has begun to change. On the night of the election last year, a group of us huddled in a friend’s tiny campus apartment watching the results roll in when we heard commotion outside. Pick-up trucks drove through town decked in “Trump 2020” signs, right alongside — you guessed it — plenty of American flags. 

After moving to rural Ohio, a much different political climate from home, this was not an unusual sight. American flags regularly flew next to signs supporting a politician who did little to handle a pandemic in which 600,000 Americans have now died. A politician who separated children from their parents at the border. A politician whose administration conducted 13 federal executions, the most under any presidential administration since the death penalty was reinstated in 1988. People who adamantly supported someone so full of hate, proudly flew the American flag. They were proud of the state of the country as it was, and the flag represented that.

Perhaps this change in perspective was a result of beginning to see what the reality of living in America is, and has been like, for so many. While things were undoubtedly made worse by who was in charge, maybe last year, and the last four years, really just brought problems to the forefront that have been around for decades. 

I think sometimes people believe that young people criticize the state of the nation because it is the “cool” position to take. Challenging the establishment and all that. The reality is that life for some Americans is exponentially more difficult than for others. For people of color, indigenous people, queer people, people experiencing poverty, there are hurdles in the way simply because of who they are. Acknowledging that can only strengthen the country for all of us. It is the most patriotic thing one could do. 

On Saturday, Nov. 7, when the election was finally called for Biden, I was driving through town when I saw that a group of people had gathered to celebrate his victory, waving American flags. They had voted for someone who promised to make substantial changes and as such, were actively changing what it was the flag represented — a power we all have. 

The flag is really just a symbol. The nation for which it stands is all of us — people with the power, the opportunity, to constantly improve this country of ours. 

Mary Hester is a student at Kenyon College. She is serving an internship at Wednesday Journal this summer.

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