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Fourth of July: Divided we stand on everything from flag to heroism

Welcome to the divided states of America.

Get ready for an earful.

We don’t agree on much in 2020. Need evidence? Just talk for five minutes to your neighbor, or your relatives, or people in line at the grocery store, or people protesting in the street. Ask people how concerned they are about the coronavirus pandemic, or what politicians should do to try to stop it.

Maybe the only thing we can agree on is that we have the right to disagree.

The Southern California News Group asked myriad people this week four simple Independence Day-related questions. Their answers showed how far apart we are. We sought out people from all over Southern California (from Yucaipa to Long Beach, from Duarte to Mission Viejo). We talked to a doctor, a police officer, a lawyer, a veteran, a teacher, students, parents, Black Lives Matter activists and supporters of President Donald Trump.

Our questions:

What does the American flag stand for?

What is patriotism?

Who is heroic?

As you celebrate the Fourth of July, will you be wearing a mask? (Yes, we went there. Wait until you read those answers.)

Some people answered very succinctly.

Alex Valich of Rancho Mission Viejo said heroes are those who “are the everyday people who make sure people are fed, healthy and safe at the cost of their own comfort.”

His was one of the shortest answers to any of the questions. The longest came from Anne Kruse of Fullerton, who wrote almost a page (single-spaced) about heroism.

“… Yes, change and consequences are hard, but we must strive to identify and break free from false heroes so we can be the hero in our own lives – that’s heroic,” Kruse said in the last line of her answer.

Flag as a symbol

In 2020, Old Glory provokes colorful descriptions, depending on who is doing the talking.

Ken Weiner, a Vietnam veteran from Murrieta, said the American flag is a symbol around the world. “The flag tells other nations who we are and gives us something to hold onto and know you are not alone,” he wrote.

Mollie Bennett at her home with her American flag and yard sign with a list of her beliefs. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Mollie Bennett of Long Beach said her opinion of the American flag is changing.

“As we slowly digest the reality that the founding principles of this country were never intended to apply to everyone, I feel less and less attachment to the symbols that are supposed to encourage patriotism,” Bennett said.

The flag is either a beacon of “opportunity, hope and a symbol of freedom,” said La Habra Police Capt. Adam Foster … or, the flag stands for the “Military Industrial Complex. The global wars. Indigenous peoples genocide. And the United States of America’s role in slavery that built the foundations of this nation,” wrote Jai Hudson, an activist from Huntington Beach.

Hudson said the colors of the flag are full of meaning: red is for blood, the white is for white supremacist power structures and the blue is for the police state.

The flag stands for “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to assemble and the right to bear arms,” said Caryn Borland of Newport Beach.

Rich Harmon, a Black man from Trabuco Canyon, said, “The American flag causes me to think about a lie disguised as ‘justice for all.’”

And to some, their definition of the American flag has changed over the years.

UCI student Chirag Shah said the American flag has had different meanings in different periods of time his life.(Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“Knowing what my parents sacrificed to get U.S. citizenship so they could build a life for themselves and their future children has always made me very proud to be an American,” said Chirag Shah, a student at UC Irvine. “Sadly, as I grew older and became more aware of the world, I learned of the continuing injustices that plague our country. For a period of time, that flag was something that pained me because it symbolized the continued injustices people whom I loved dearly faced on a semi-regular basis. At this point, in my life, however, I feel I have a more mature view of the flag because that symbol of our country is, to me, a symbol of what makes our country so wonderful: the ability to change.”

Who’s patriotic?

Are the protesters, inspired by the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of police, committing acts of patriotism by taking over the streets? Is demanding change a patriotic act? Is supporting the military and the police the ultimate form of patriotism?

“Patriotism is fighting for this country,” said Jeannette Noceda-Crosby, who lives in Brea and was a former public defender in Orange County. “Patriotism is volunteering to make this country better. Patriotism is showing support, even when you believe something should be changed. Patriots don’t believe everything is perfect, but they believe you can make a change and still support this country and make it even better.”

Michelle Ludwig, an attorney from Orange Park Acres, said a patriot shows “the utmost respect for our country and to the men and women who have died while serving our country.”

Mistaken patriotism can be dangerous, Kruse said.

“Where some operate under the guise of protecting the country they are, in fact, demonstrating a fear of change and an inability to learn new ways of growing and expanding so our country can be stronger,” Kruse said. “Ironically, they end up damaging the very thing they think they are protecting.”

Bennett said patriotism requires change.

“I can love my country, and simultaneously question and challenge my country,” she said. “In fact, I feel obligated to do that. Real patriotism demands that we consistently re-evaluate what we know, face the hard truths about how we got here, and shift toward true equity for all of our people.”

Show me a hero

The question about heroes appears to have prompted the most universal responses.

Dr. Steven Rosen of Duarte said, “Heroic would involve health care workers AND also soldiers and first responders facing adversity.”

Alexandria Hughes of Newport Coast agreed.

“My heroes are all of the men and women buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and their fearless fight to represent the United States of America and the beacon of light she represents to every other country in this world,” Hughes said.

Parents raising children. Support animals. Teachers. Those were easy choices.

Emily Drinkwine, a teacher at The Grove School, holds her American flag and wears a t-shirt that reads Created Equal, a quote from President Abraham Lincoln. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Emily Drinkwine, a school teacher from Yucaipa, looked to history for a hero.

“Abraham Lincoln has to be my hero,” Drinkwine said. “Well-respected by most, he abolished slavery and paved the way for much greater work to be done by all to ensure that all men (and women) are created equal.”

Borland didn’t have to reach back in history for her example of a hero.

“Personally, I think President Trump is a hero for weathering the storm of all the junk the media throws at him,” she said. “And he just keeps going to lead our country. He has kept every promise he has made.”

Borland was the only commenter who mentioned the president.

Mask debate

She will not be wearing a mask on the 4th of July.

“Several reasons,” she said, “mainly because I can’t breathe in them. I almost passed out in the grocery store when I did wear one. Also, I will be having Fourth of July at my home with friends and I’m certainly not wearing one in my home. Third, this is not an emergency. There is a 99% recovery rate so there is no reason to be treating this with kid gloves. Countries that have developed herd immunity are doing much better. Plus there is good evidence that masks don’t really filter out as much of the bacteria as previously thought. If I am sick I stay home. Otherwise, I intend to live my life as a free American and not be a slave to fear.”

Dr. Rosen, however, will be wearing a mask. Rosen is the chief scientific officer at the City of Hope.

“It is a simple and painless way to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Rosen said. “We are finding that public face mask-wearing is especially important with this disease because of the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers who can spread the virus to others even though they do not feel sick. I recommend everyone wear a mask for this year’s Independence Day celebrations. And if you have one that’s red, white, and blue, so much the better.”

Alexandria Hughes sits at her piano with the flag she received after her father’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Her father, Marine Pfc. Cornelius “Chuck” Coronado, served during WWII and fought at the Battle of Okinawa. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Alexandria Hughes, who is a supporter of President Trump and recovering from COVID-19, will be wearing a mask. But she is certain where the blame for the pandemic belongs: China.

“As a COVID-19 survivor who now possesses both kinds of antibodies and cannot catch or spread the illness, I will still be wearing a mask should I go out into public,” Hughes said. “The reason is because I know how sick this disease makes people. Let me assure you it is real; and not everybody survives.”

Source: Orange County Register

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