You’ve no doubt seen this unfortunate news from yesterday:
The Confederate flag was removed from a pole on the South Carolina capitol grounds early Saturday morning by activists, but state employees returned the flag to its position not long after the incident.
An activist group claimed responsibility for taking the flag down. Witnesses said two people were arrested by authorities almost immediately after one of them scaled the flag pole on the north side of the State House grounds and pulled the Confederate banner down….
The state Bureau of Protective Services confirmed it had arrested two people at the State House about 6:15 a.m. Those arrested were Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome, a 30-year-old Raleigh resident, and James Ian Tyson, a 30-year-old Charlotte resident, the protective services bureau said…
This kind of action does no good whatsoever, except for perhaps providing some sense of personal, self-congratulatory satisfaction to the individuals involved, one of whom was photographed grinning at the camera as she was arrested.
I say this not just because I believe in the rule of law, and this was an illegal act — although anything that lends even the slightest taint of illegitimacy to our cause is harmful.
I say it not because the perpetrators weren’t South Carolinians, although that is another problem. And I say that at risk of offending a new friend, Mariangeles Borghini, the Argentinian lady who started the ball rolling on last weekend’s flag rally, and bless her for doing that. Mari wrote on Facebook yesterday, “People complaining because neither me or Bree Newsome are from SC. Just get over it and move on!” Ah, but see, it would indeed be a problem if the only people agitating to get the flag down were from out of state. In fact, it would do no good at all. It could even do harm.
Finally, I’m not saying this because such a gesture is in the end ineffective, although it’s perfectly obvious that that is so. The authorities put the flag right back up there — as they were obviously going to do, since the law required them to do so. No more good was done than when “the Rev. E. Slave” climbed up there several years back.
But that’s not it. Even if the flag stayed down forever after those folks from North Carolina acted, it would not accomplish the thing that we need to accomplish; it would not achieve the higher purpose in lowering the flag.
There exists only one way to get the flag down that does any good whatsoever, that even has any point to it: South Carolina has to decide to take it down. We, the people of this state, acting through our elected representatives, have to repeal the unconscionable law that requires it to fly there, and order it to be removed. Otherwise, nothing is accomplished. Until they do this, the flag will fly, and the people of this state will continue to be collectively guilty of willing it to do so.
This is counterintuitive for a lot of people — especially, apparently, if they are young and impetuous. It’s a realization I was slow in coming to myself, at first — 21 years back, when I wrote the first of hundreds of editorials, columns and blog posts about the need to take the flag down. It’s something that I still have trouble explaining sometimes, although there are folks out there who understand it more readily than I did.
Something happens when you express opinions on controversial topics, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people will read your words and try to pick them apart — you think about those issues harder than you would have otherwise.
Initially, I would have been happy with any expedient that brought the flag down — a lawsuit, some tricky technicality, whatever. In fact, my first editorial on the subject (if I remember correctly; I don’t have it in front of me) urged then-Gov. Carroll Campbell to just take it on himself to remove it.
I was deeply frustrated when, not long after that — in response to quite a few calls to remove it, including my own steady insistence, over and over in the paper — the Legislature passed a law requiring that the flag fly, and making it illegal for anyone (including the governor) to remove it.
But gradually, I realized that that act of bad faith on the part of the majority of lawmakers was fine in a way — because only if the will of South Carolina, expressed through the deliberative process of representative democracy, was to bring down the flag would the action accomplish any higher purpose.
And what would that higher purpose be? It would be the one we saw evidence itself last Monday — a coming together in historic reconciliation, an act of grace and healing, an act of inclusion packed with legal, political and cultural power.
Last week, we saw our elected leaders respond to the powerful act of grace and forgiveness carried out by the families of the Mother Emanuel victims at the arraignment of Dylann Roof. This miraculous act engendered other miracles, including a consensus on removing the flag that was unthinkable two weeks ago.
This is about South Carolina setting aside division and embracing each other as fellow citizens, and not only not rubbing hurtful symbols into the faces of their neighbors, but — and here’s the real point — not wanting to.
This is not anything you can achieve with a lawsuit, or unilateral action, or a boycott, or anything that seeks to coerce or trick the flag down.
South Carolina has to decide to do it, so that South Carolina can grow, transcend its past and be a better place, for the sake of all its citizens.
That’s what’s getting ready to happen, I believe. That’s what all of us who want this transformative development need to push and speak and pray for — respectfully, reverently, in a spirit that does not disgrace the dignity of the dead, or interrupt the chain reaction of grace that we saw initiated in that courtroom, or disturb the solemnity of these funerals we are witnessing.
It’s a political act that we’re engaging in, but it’s also a spiritual one. And everything we do or say in the coming days needs to be worthy of it.