Editorial: For whom the flag flies

Posted 7/9/20

Twice the Bristol Town Council faced no-win choices about flying flags above public spaces, before it decided twice is enough.

First the council heard passionate speeches from citizens imploring …

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Editorial: For whom the flag flies

Posted

Twice the Bristol Town Council faced no-win choices about flying flags above public spaces, before it decided twice is enough.

First the council heard passionate speeches from citizens imploring the town to raise a Black Lives Matter flag above Town Hall. Given the climate across the country, and the powerful emotions they were probably feeling themselves, they couldn’t possibly say no to that.

Then a few weeks later, they heard more passionate speeches from citizens asking them to fly a flag honoring first-responders. And though the group behind that request stumbled into the meeting with bad optics, once councilors listened to nurses, soldiers, EMTs and firefighters talking about the sacrifices made by first-responders, they couldn’t possibly say no to that request either.

Now they can.

Shortly after approving the second request, for the first-responders flag that now flies over Independence Park, the council approved a new policy for public flag requests. Neither flag could fly under this new policy. And that’s the point. While the town’s public spaces should be open for all people, all groups and all messages permissible within this free nation, the town itself should not be the messenger.

By formally choosing to fly a flag, the town was in the business of selecting which causes, which messages, to endorse and project to the world.

Rightly, the council closed the door on future speeches from impassioned residents asking for special-interest flags to wave above town parks and facilities. Though both faced opposition, neither the Black Lives Matter flag nor the first-responders flag engenders widespread opposition. Both fly above Bristol as a symbolic gesture of support for a deserving group of people.

But with that door open, the town could have faced many more special-interest flag requests. Requests for the Confederate flag, the Neo-Nazi flag, the Green Peace flag and the PETA flag would all make for great headlines in the local paper, but they would be an enormous waste of the council’s time and energy.

The town did a good job stepping out the flag business as quickly as it stepped into it.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.