I Pledge Allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
That was America’s first pledge. Schoolchildren recited words from a magazine in the autumn of 1892, their hands outstretched in a stiff-armed salute toward flags the magazine had marketed to their schools.
It’s the same pledge, plus or minus nine words, that the St. Louis Park City Council decided last month it would no longer recite. And we — primarily we who don’t live in St. Louis Park — have been arguing about it for the past week.
St. Louis Park City Council members thought skipping the pledge would be a hospitable gesture; a way to ensure that everyone who came to one of their meetings felt welcome.
But the council’s rejection of the pledge — one of the few things that still bring Americans together and speak with one voice — baffled and hurt a lot of people.
Fury rained down on the western suburb: Unpatriotic. Traitors. America, love it or leave it, St. Louis Park. This is all Ilhan Omar’s fault, probably. The council plans to revisit the issue at its meeting Monday.
Americans have been pledging allegiance to the flag for nearly 127 years. Few other nations talk to their flags on a daily basis, and the history of the pledge is as weird and wonderful as America itself.
The Pledge of Allegiance was a marketing gimmick penned by a socialist.
Bellamy created the pledge for The Youth’s Companion, a popular magazine that was flogging flags to American schools to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic.
The pledge summed up Bellamy’s faith that education could solve any social or political ill. And the pledge sold flags.
The flag means something to Americans. Although the meaning depends on the American.
It’s the flag we drape on the coffins of soldiers and first responders who die in our service. It’s the flag we planted on the moon. It’s the flag that half the country carried into battle against the other half.
We wave it in joy and lower it in grief and burn it in rage.
Generation after generation, we make promises to the flag. One nation under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.
We said the words through the long years of segregation. We said them before women won the right to vote. Children pledged allegiance in Japanese-American internment camps and at Indian boarding schools where they’d been torn from their families and culture.
We say the words now, in a nation of weaponized patriotism and Muslim bans and babies in cages along the border.
Some Americans got tired of pledging allegiance to a flag that wasn’t holding up its side of the bargain.
In 2002, our Legislature passed a bill requiring weekly recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at Minnesota schools.
Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed it.
“All of us should have free choice when it comes to patriotic displays,” said Ventura, a veteran and contrarian. “There is much more to being a patriot and a citizen than reciting the pledge or raising a flag.”
The Legislature pushed the pledge bill again the next year, to the next governor, and it became Minnesota law. Jesse still gets the last word.
“Patriots serve. Patriots vote. Patriots attend meetings in their communities,” he once said. “No law will make a citizen a patriot.”
Personally, I love the ritual of the pledge and the hope embedded in the words, even on days they ring hollow.
But I would no more tell you to pledge than I would tackle you at the knees and rip the Betsy Ross flag shoes off your feet. Even though, per the Flag Code, the flag does not belong on apparel, and the flag should not touch the ground, and the flag definitely should not touch apparel that touches the ground.
So wear your love for your country on your sleeve. Write it in fireworks across the sky. Take a knee during the national anthem until the nation you love lives up to its promise.
No one gets to define patriotism for you. No one else’s patriotism is any of your business.
The Founding Fathers never pledged allegiance to a flag. The promises they made, they made to one another, there in the final lines of the Declaration of Independence: “[W]e mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
There are worse ways to begin a school day or a city council meeting.
“Liberty and justice for all,” you could promise the person sitting next to you. “Let’s try.”