Why I Don’t Stand for the Pledge

Rachel Foster, Opinion Editor

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I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

With liberty and justice for all.

Liberty and justice for all.

Justice for all.

All.

Like all Americans, I grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

In kindergarten we would start every day with the Pledge and then our teacher would play a few patriotic songs on her guitar (like “America the Beautiful,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” “This Land is Your Land,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle,” and, of course, “The Star Spangled Banner”) and we would happily, proudly, sing along.

At the time we didn’t quite know what it meant to love our country but the morning tradition helped us to learn. We were proud when we were finally able to recite the Pledge and sing the songs from memory, and that feeling of pride was probably, for most of us, our first taste of nationalism.

After kindergarten we no longer sang about our love for our country every morning but we still said the Pledge, every day, for the next twelve years.

At some point reciting the Pledge became less of an actual pledge of allegiance to our country and more of something mundane that we did every morning, mumbling the words through our sleep-muddled brains with our hands limply placed over our hearts. Sometime in middle school or even in late elementary school the Pledge of Allegiance became nothing more than a mindless recitation.

It wasn’t until high school that we started to form our own opinions and decided what nationalism meant to us individually. For me, nationalism took on a whole different meaning.

My personal idea of nationalism doesn’t necessarily have to include saying the Pledge every morning and memorizing patriotic songs. It doesn’t have to include blindly following the government and praising people of power who may not deserve that power.

Nationalism to me is deeper than that. It is recognizing when your government isn’t holding up its side of the bargain and refusing to accept it until it does. It is realizing when your country is doing something wrong and protesting until it protects everyone, not just the privileged. It is pledging allegiance to the rights and lives of the people in your country, not to the country itself. That is nationalism.

That’s what it is to me, anyway. I believe that my decision to not stand for the pledge is inherently patriotic. It’s easy for people to completely invalidate my decision by saying that I don’t stand merely because I’m lazy and unpatriotic but in reality the opposite is true.

I don’t stand because to me the Pledge seems like an empty promise. The Pledge states that there is “liberty and justice for all,” but who is “all”?

What about the Black men and women, the Black teenagers and children, the Black citizens who were unarmed and innocent but still killed by the police? Did they have liberty? Where was their justice when the harshest punishment an officer received was paid leave and a scolding?

What about Tamir Rice, a 12 year old Black boy from Cleveland, Ohio, who was killed last year by police for playing with a toy in a public park? Did he have liberty? Did he have justice?

What about LGBTQ+ youth like 17-year-old trans girl Leelah Alcorn, who was forced to go through conversion therapy, which is legal in all but four states, to change her gender identity and was driven to suicide because of it? Where was her liberty to be herself?

What about the LGBTQ+ couples who want to adopt a child but can’t because of homophobic and transphobic adoption laws? Do they have the same liberties as straight and cisgender Americans?

The United States of America was built on injustice; it was built on the graves of Native Americans and the backs of African slaves. Inherently, it is a nation of injustice. But injustice is not the ideology that we stand for.

We stand for equality. We stand for peace. We stand for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We stand for democracy. We stand for rights. We stand for protest.

So no, I will not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. This is my protest.

I love my country because I am able to do this, protest; because I have the rights to freedom of speech, expression, and petition; because I have a voice and can resist oppressive institutions that betray the core values of the United States of America.

This is not something I do out of disrespect for our troops or our veterans, though I do understand why my actions could be considered offensive to some. I am more than happy to explain my reasons to anyone who asks; I want people to understand my reasons, and I don’t want them to be offended. Disrespect is not my intention, but I know that in many cases it could be a consequence.

Regardless, I stand by my choice to not stand for the Pledge. This is my choice; this is my protest. I may not stand for the Pledge but I do stand with our country and with our people, and in my eyes there is a stark difference between the two.

We are the product of protest and protesting the injustice currently afflicting our country is the best form of patriotism that I can personally offer. I know that we as a whole can—and should, and must—do better. We owe it to each other, ourselves, and our country to do better. The United States is not the United States without true liberty and true justice for all.

So let’s fight for it.

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