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a peaceful protest


I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking red lipstick tough woman that walked with a cane. She did not suffer fools. After a few days of my antics, it was understood that I was disrupting the class, even if the only reason to be in this room was to take attendance at the start of the day. We had a brief conversation. I can remember that she really did respect where I was coming from, which was truly generous of her. In hindsight, I was a royal pain in her ass, and she did not deserve that. We came to an understanding. I would check in with her each day, and then I would wait until classes began somewhere else, where I could quietly sit during the pledge. As luck would have it, there was an office where I worked as the editor for the school paper. I considered putting a coffee maker in there but then decided to play things safe. The room had big windows. People knew what I was doing and what I was not doing in there. In the end, they could care less.

I used to take freedom of speech for granted, the right to express myself peacefully was an assumption I held as sure as the promise of turkey on Thanksgiving and fireworks on the fourth of July. It would have been impossible to imagine a future America when taking a knee during the anthem could be seen as anything so outrageous. Peaceful protest was already part of the very fabric of change for twenty years back then, now forty,  even fifty years later we have skipped back in time, we have rewound the threads so far that they are back in their bobbins. As the country unravels, as unarmed men and women are shot or run over by cars, as hate crimes become so common that they are not even reported I wonder if any logic can prevail, even a deeply flawed one.

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