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Charlotte Observer Opinion: A Flag Burner's Perspective

Jason Bargert

The writer is from Charlotte: Jason Bargert My name is Jason Bargert. Myself and three others set fire to the United States flag on the lawn at 600 E. Trade Street in front of the Occupy Charlotte camp. Though I have been openly involved with Occupy Charlotte, I did not provide notice or acquire approval for my actions, as is the policy of Occupy Charlotte. In this protest we acted as individuals, not as occupiers. The symbolism of our display has been a long and heated debate for nearly a century. Over the last few days I have seen my own thoughts, feelings, and motives discussed on a large scale without my participation. I would like the opportunity to tell you what we did and what it meant to me. First I would like to express that I intended no disrespect to the individual enlisted men, women, and veterans living and deceased. These people have entered service to the people of their nation and take a vow to protect their loved ones and countrymen from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I hold our veterans in the highest regard knowing that their motives were not always the same as those who send them into battle. The flag symbolizes many different things to many different people. To the people who defend our homeland and stand united in service to the safety of our people - the flag that I burned was not a symbol of your efforts and convictions or a display of disrespect to you. The flag I burned was an effigy to the aggressive colonialism, destructive corporate policy, and utter negligence that the United States government has shown for the people's welfare and well-being on a global scale. These behaviors are widely agreed to be present and unacceptable. We as a nation seem to only be divided on the source and solution to these problems that have come to represent our government worldwide. It is a government that proudly touts itself to be "For the people, by the people" as its continuing credo. This statement implicates every American with responsibility for our government's actions. This hypocrisy is not why men and women enlist, and I am very aware of that. I stand respectfully in solidarity with Occupy Marines, Army, Police, and all the people who have put their lives, pensions, badges, businesses, families and personal well being on the line to support the cause of true freedom at home and abroad. I will apologize for the difficulty that my wife, family, and Occupy Charlotte must endure in the shockwave of my actions. My home and social life are in shambles, and I am aware that no one is responsible for this but myself. I only hope that they will show understanding and compassion while I too must endure the consequences of my actions. I do, however, without remorse set fire to the hypocrisy, negligence, puppetry of our system, and adherence to flags and nationalism in the place of rational governance and compassion. The burning of the flag (to me) is an act that asserts the right of the people over the government. America is ruled by the people, not the government. I believe that it is our patriotic duty at this juncture to make that assertion. Flag burning is a patriotic act carried out by people who care deeply enough about our freedoms to challenge directly the government when it becomes a threat to the people. Patriots who love America burn flags. Some will say the flag symbolizes everything good about America, and it should be respected and cherished as we strive to gain back its proper meaning. I respect that ideal. On the other hand, some would argue that it is symbolic of the corruption and greed within the system and no longer represents our people. We must understand that these are emotions and ideas that vary from person to person. The symbolism of the flag is very broad and only defined by the individuals who use it to make a statement. My personal feelings regarding Occupy Charlotte, like most, are in constant evolution. I have received an outpouring of support from other occupiers, occupations, and individuals who understand the symbolism of my action. The local movement was unified in their contempt for the event that took place. They were, on the other hand, divided on the issue of whether or not those who participated should be banned. Most who seemed resolved to my removal had been working with the Charlotte City Council and local church groups to build a relationship in order to stop or postpone the ordinance that will remove the encampment. The encampment itself voted not to expel me and the those who demanded my expulsion blocked, and walked. This group also included the Occupy Charlotte legal and financial team. I feel that Occupy Charlotte has walked on eggshells to not inflame the city council. This is because we knew they have had this ordinance drafted and awaiting a vote. I feel that the local movement has been sedated by this knowledge from nearly our beginning. The city council has postured against the movement by drafting this ordinance in the first place. They have shown that they will, with full knowledge of the facts, welcome a corrupt corporation with an endless list of human rights violations into our community, and pay their moving expenses and taxes (Chiquita). To placate this council in order to keep the camp on grounds is not a victory. I hope that Occupy Charlotte will move away from a focus on public image and welcome an era of action for the new year. I have been encouraged to by many others to say many things within this statement to ensure "damage control" is handled properly. I can only speak my true feelings and live in good standing with my own convictions. I am hurt that my free speech is not so welcome as others. My statement was inflammatory, but it was protected and free. I feel that the initial reaction of many was fueled mostly by emotion and not understanding. I know that public outreach is important to the Occupy movement. I know it is striving to be all-inclusive and many feel my actions pushed more people away than those who have already openly backed out. I too feel pushed away. I too have shed tears for this action. I would like to thank Occupy Charlotte for all the things I have learned while participating, all the (remaining few) friendships forged, and insight I have gained in my experience with this movement locally. I am very grateful for the movement's decision not to ban me. I am, however, saddened both by the divide my actions have sealed and the lack of support I have received locally and at home. This being considered, I respectfully, and with overwhelming sadness resign my direct participation with Occupy Charlotte. I remain open to dialogue with its participants and wish them the very best this new year. This is by no means a resignation from my duties as an activist and active participant in the cause of freedom.