Flag Amendment and the Assault on Political Dissent

by Gregory “Joey” Johnson

Revolution #009, July 24, 2005, posted at revcom.us

I am Gregory “Joey” Johnson. I was the defendant in the 1989 Supreme Court flag-burning case, Texas v. Johnson. I am still unrepentant about the burning of the American flag at the 1984 Republican National Convention as Ronald Reagan was being nominated for a second term as president. And I still see the American flag as a symbol of empire, oppression, international plunder and murder.

Today, powerful forces in the U.S. ruling elite—Republicans and Democrats—are again pushing for a constitutional amendment that would make burning the American flag in protest a crime. The proposed amendment— “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States”—has passed the House of Representatives. In the Senate, the amendment is being sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and is given a better chance of passing than ever before. If it passes Congress, it will require approval in the legislatures of three-quarters of the states.

Why is the amendment coming to the fore again right now? The U.S. government is engaged in a global war for empire with wild ambitions of restructuring international relations so that the world is more completely under U.S. domination. Even as they get into deeper trouble in Iraq, they discuss what countries should be next on their hit list. Bush justifies all this as a “war on terror” and points to September 11. But, increasingly, the justifications have turned out to be lies. People see the daily horrors in Iraq and ask, "What is it all for?’

The flag amendment is an attempt, by broad sections of the ruling class, to unite the nation behind a jingoistic and belligerent “my country right or wrong” patriotism. They need the flag as a symbol of national unity. “This amendment is necessary.[to] maintaining the traditions and symbols that have helped to bind us together in all our diversity for over 200 years,” Orrin Hatch said as he introduced the amendment in the Senate in April.

For those who would speak out and act against the system and its crimes, the amendment would create an atmosphere of intimidation backed up by police, courts, and jail. A wide range of political protest and even artistic expression would face prosecution and punishment.

The U.S government has a long and shameful history of political repression. But this amendment would change the fundamental law around political speech and dissent, giving the government new legal tools to take this repression to another level. Just how far is it from saying people can’t criticize or express contempt for the symbol of the government to saying people can’t criticize the government at all? Look around you, already journalists are being harassed and jailed; university professors investigated and purged, and even a U.S. senator who merely questioned torture was quickly denounced for “weakening the war effort.” These are all ominous developments that concern tens of millions of people, far beyond those who might ever burn a flag.

I’m not just a flag-burner. I am a proletarian internationalist and a revolutionary communist. I dare to dream of— and fight to bring into being—a world of freely cooperating and freely associating human beings, without borders, without exploitation and oppression—a society that people would want to live in. We should talk and debate about what is the way forward for humanity.

I’m calling on people who see the dangers in what the rulers are trying to enforce through this amendment to be part of a massive movement to DRIVE THE BUSH REGIME FROM POWER! I support the call for a day of massive resistance on November 2, the anniversary of Bush’s re-election. As the Call for Action on November 2 states, “We need more than fighting Bush’s outrages one at a time, constantly losing ground to the whole onslaught. We must, and can, aim to create a political situation where the Bush regime’s program is repudiated, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking society is reversed. We, in our millions, must and can take responsibility to change the course of history.”

Joey Johnson can be contacted via email: joeyjohnson4688@yahoo.com