Flagging Nod to Old Glory

Americana Meditation Shows the Best, Worst and In-Between

Diane Nilan

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A man with an American flag holding vigil on the steps of the US Capitol. Photo Diane Nilan Video available:https://vimeo.com/837209239

We don’t like long — stories, videos, or anything that takes us away from the nano-second scrolling we’ve succumbed to. When I concocted this project — Americana Meditation — I accepted that I couldn’t make it short. For good reason. I made it anyhow. Set aside 17 minutes for a reflection on Old Glory.

Over the last 18 years, I’ve lived full-time and traveled in a camper-van over more than 400,000 miles of mostly backroads to chronicle an aspect homelessness invisible to many. My one-woman nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., gives voice and visibility to families and youth experiencing homelessness. It’s a cause I’ve long been involved in, a unique project to raise awareness of this issue that affects literally millions of kids and parents.

My Flagging Observations

In the process of my travels, I started paying attention to flags. US flags. My unconventional travels began during the George W. Bush administration, just after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. I kept seeing flags of all conditions — crisp, new and dingy, fringy. They spoke to me — of our Fulnation’s varying expressions of patriotism — sharp and focused, tattered and defiled. I was hooked on flags.

Patriotism as expressed by flags, conveys a variety of political positions. My 90-year-old mother flew one to make a statement of her belief in our country despite the conservative Republicans surrounding her in her assisted living community. I’m not sure if they got the message or just assumed she was one of them.

My mind has been blown by the different iterations of patriotism ala flags I’ve seen. Nothing like a southern community’s July 4th parade to bring out the red, white and blue. Cemeteries, filled with veterans who’ve served proudly, have flags stuck by headstones that look like they were placed after the Vietnam War. Flags as soda machines. High-heeled shoes. Shorts and shirts. Flags made in China.

Flags make statements, especially when they are accompanied by other flags that make statements — America at its finest, albeit unrealized, and its worst. The red, white and blue flying proudly over businesses, institutions and homes bespeaks a pride in America. What, then, are we to think of Old Glory flying over homeless encampments, or stuck in a backpack of someone without a place to live? Or Old Glory accompanied by the Confederate flag? Sigh.

The juxtaposition of the flag appeals to my quirky nature. Reflections of our nation’s banner capture my eye. The threadbare flag, defies the long-standing US Flag Code, as does the countless ways people have incorporated this icon of democracy in defiance of clear standards. But, as a former president adeptly and frequently demonstrated, rules are made to be broken.

Thus, my copious collection of flags will flash across your screen, along with jaunty music by Blue Dot Sessions, my go-to source for background music for the videos on family homelessness I film and produce. A handful of pics are personal, the church I attended as a young ‘un barely separated from the flag, places I’ve stayed in my van during my 18 years on the road, and those flapping proudly at protest marches I’ve attended.

Assuming you’ll spend the 17 minutes to watch Americana Meditation unfurl, I’d like to think we can join in accepting that America is made up of a spectrum of patriots, at least involved enough to raise a flag. Imagine if no one did. What an even sadder state of national loyalty we’d be in.

Other than the screenshots of the presidents, speaker of the house and vice president, Reps. Liz Cheney and Benny Thompson, all images are mine. Music is by Blue Dot Sessions, one of my favorite sources of music for my copious collection of films I’ve made (many short, all poignant) on families, youth and adult homelessness.

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Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 18 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us