I was asked to speak at the annual Memorial Day flag pole ceremony in my home town of Palisades, NY. The invitation was extended by the local John M. Perry American Legion Post. As a long-time anti-war activist who came of age during the Vietnam War, this was an unusual pairing for me. I have never been invited to speak by the American Legion. I was a bit apprehensive of what I might say or how my remarks would be received.
My fears were unfounded. The ceremony included traditional elements of any small-town Memorial Day commemoration: veterans and first responders in dress uniforms, speeches honoring the fallen—both locally and nationally during the previous year, fire trucks, a bugler who played a moving rendition of taps, lots of flags and local residents who turned out for the festivities kicking off the unofficial beginning of summer.
I was warmly welcomed and my presentation seemed to be appreciated. In light of recent tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde, my comments deploring gun violence and calling for advocacy and action in favor of candidates who support gun safety evoked heart-felt applause. (You can see a full copy of my presentation, here.)
My remarks focused on a deepened understanding of the veteran community that I gained during my work at Intersections with our Veteran Civilian Dialogues (VCD). I specifically referenced one dialogue when a vet who had enlisted post-9/11 and then was denied a visit to his niece and nephew because he had “changed,” had his story interrupted when he was reminded of a friend and colleague who had been killed in combat in Iraq.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, I was approached by my dear friend Cristina Biaggi. Cristina is an internationally known artist and author, an ardent feminist and environmentalist. I shared the story of why I stood reflectively but did not actually say the pledge of allegiance. I told her that when my youngest daughter Kierra was in the second grade, she was uncomfortable repeating the pledge which she, of course, was compelled to say every morning at school. She and I had extensive conversations about the pledge and the meaning behind it. Subsequently, she decided that she could not in good conscience pledge to a flag (remember, she was seven!) and—now in her mid-forties—she has not said the pledge since. In solidarity with her, neither have I. My reasoning: my allegiance is to the Gospel, not to any national flag.
Cristina just winked at me and responded, “I agree. So, I wrote my own pledge.” Intrigued, I asked her to repeat it; and I share it with you today. Cristina said, “I pledge allegiance to the Earth and all Her inhabitants. One world, in the cosmos with compassion and justice for all.”
Now this is a pledge I could easily recite.