New Paltz flag appreciation event draws support, protest

Participants in the American Flag Appreciation Walk held yesterday afternoon in New Paltz (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Billed as an “appreciation walk and ride” for the American flag, hundreds converged on New Paltz yesterday bedecked with Old Glory. They were met by perhaps two score of protesters, resulting in a thunderous shouting match across Main Street for several minutes. The arrival of a prearranged convoy of military vehicles and motorcycles drowned out even that cacophony, and also served as a signal to flag supporters that it was time to head back uptown for free snacks.

The event was instigated by reactions on social media to a fundraising campaign to paint a mural of the flag on a brick wall at La Bella Pizza Bistro, which is a frequent target for graffiti. Regardless of what the flag is or was intended to represent, it evokes different feelings in different people, and many of the responses were negative.

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Maria Lisanti owns La Bella Pizza Bistro, and it was her idea to paint a mural of the flag, because she felt it would be a “beautiful” image which would be “perfect for the wall” across from the middle school. She initially thought a mural would deter graffiti, but admitted after Sunday’s event that she was less certain in light of the strong reaction against the flag itself.

 

Participants in the Flag Appreciation Walk speak with protesters

 

To Lisanti, the flag is a symbol representing ideals, not necessarily the present state of national affairs. She ties it to sacrifice for ideals such as liberty and justice, especially the sacrifice of soldiers. Another version of that same concept was represented on a protest sign which framed it as “myths about our ancestors.”

Work on the mural has already begun, but Lisanti won’t release the artist’s name “for a few days.” Completing the project will take about 16 working days, which are dependent on the weather.

The anonymous artist, had she arrived Sunday ready for work, might have had difficulty finding parking. The lot quickly filled up, and walk organizer Joey Garcia arranged overflow at Joe’s East-West. Inside the pizzeria, patriotic colors were on display more than an hour before the official noon start, and a brisk business was being done in late-morning slices. As the event machinery geared up, tables outside were set up for selling shirts commemorating the event and volunteers moved through the crowd, pressing flags into any empty hand. Others brought in freebies: baked goods and other treats to bolster the spread Lisanti would offer after the walk, boxes of flags, prizes donated to raffle off to fund the mural, enamel pins that look a lot like the flag but upon closer inspection reveal a nonstandard arrangement of the 50 stars.

 

Participants gather and wait for the event to begin

 

Flags of many sizes were carried by people of many ages, from tiny toddlers to people who have been waving the star-spangled banner since the Vietnam war. Little girls with pigtails wore them as hair sticks, and at least three adults violated the U.S. Flag Code by wearing hoodies made of the flag itself. One of them, Kristin Pinkham, said, “I think today we can make an exception. I love my flag.” The flag code, which carries no penalties, includes other rules such as never leaving a displayed flag in darkness or allowing it to become neglected and fall into disrepair, as one might observe with flags hung from freeway overpasses.

During the lead-up and throughout the day, Garcia continually repeated the message that this was to be a peaceful event, free of politics. It did not appear any violence occurred, but numerous heated exchanges were reported; asking for politics to be set aside in New Paltz was probably asking too much. Nevertheless, he told attendees that the intent was to express appreciation “in a peaceful, positive way,” and while there were unconfirmed reports about verbal exchanges including elements of hate speech, it appears that no actual violence occurred.

Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully for school board earlier this year, is a six-year military veteran and connects military service to the flag very strongly. In the flag he sees “all that’s good in the world;” the United States is not perhaps a perfect union, but he feels it’s a “force for good in the world.” When “vocal opposition” was raised to Lisanti’s mural, he says he took “personal issue with that,” and decided, “Let’s all take a walk together” to express flag appreciation.

Like many who came out in support, Garcia expressed ignorance over the controversy, saying, “I don’t get it, and I don’t agree with it.”

 

Protesters confront participants in the American Flag Appreciation walk

Protester Zoe Supina said that her concern is about how the flag is used. “A lot of times it’s used for white nationalism,” she said while holding a banner before the big walk. She was present to “advocate for peace” and promote coexistence, rather than uphold use of military force overseas.

Flag supporter Scott Pinkham said that the banner “should have no political affiliation. It’s for all sides.” Like others, he expressed no clear understanding of the purpose of protest. “I didn’t protest Obama,” he said.

Pinkham’s teenage son Clay, who said his parents didn’t make him attend, said, “Anyone against the flag is against the country.” He wasn’t the only representative of his generation; several boys from the local high school were also there, waving three-foot-by-five-foot flags confidently.

The walk was kicked off with a recording of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and as participants headed off downtown along the southern sidewalk, a now larger group of protesters kicked off their own march directly in front. Their chants in opposition to racism, police brutality, imperialism and oppression like, “no justice, no peace” were met quickly with a refrain of “U.S.A.!” from those waving the red, white and blue in counterpoint to the protesters’ black flags, which represent anarchy. Town police officers, out in force and tacitly backed up by sheriff’s deputies and state troopers who drove by even more frequently than usual, kept the walkers mostly on the sidewalks as they made their way down to the corner of Chestnut Street. At that point the crowd began to congregate and tensions seemed to mount, until finally protesters crossed the street to cheers from the flag supporters.

No parade permit was sought for this walk, because they are only required when traffic must be stopped for the event. While officers did stop car traffic temporarily to allow the “rolling thunder brigade” of military transport vehicles and motorcycles to get through the Chestnut intersection quickly, there was no concerted effort to clear the road as is done, for example, for the Halloween parade. The cost of a parade permit includes paying for police overtime. Chief Joseph Snyder agreed to determine how much, if any, police overtime was used during the flag walk, but could not promise to have it by press time.

 

A member of the motorcycle brigade traveling down Main Street in New Paltz during the Flag March last Sunday displays her opinion to protesters

 

All along the route, men and women in clerical collars moved among the participants on both sides of the street. Pastor Tobias Anderson of the Redeemer Lutheran Church in New Paltz explained that this was ministry to prevent violence, by interposing themselves if necessary; according to Anderson, Rev. Mark Mast had to do just that to stop a fight at one point. Anderson observed what he felt was hateful language being used by people on both sides of the issue, and attempts to draw opponents into a physical altercation. This reporter observed one protester blocking a flag supporter two to three times his size from passing on the sidewalk, despite police orders not to block passage; numerous individuals attested to seeing flag supporters being similarly provocative, but did not offer specifics to be corroborated. Heard on the street were some strong comments, such as a supporting observing that protesters are “failed abortions” and a protester proclaiming, “You’re all old and going to die.” A chant of “all lives matter” from the flag side did nothing to quell the unrest.

Age distribution was notable; while protesters appeared to be largely in their 20s, the flag supporters were mostly older adults with some children in tow.

Once the protesters were facing flag supporters across the state highway, the dueling chants and verbal jibes grew louder and louder as passersby watched, astounded by the spectacle. Some of the protesters, who later identified themselves only as members of the Hudson Valley Antifascist Network, kept their faces covered, eliciting a chant of “Show your face!” One member explained that there are “plenty of reasons” to prefer anonymity when expressing such views in this political climate.

“The flag means lot of different things to a lot of people,” said protester Bennett Sippel, “including the ability to oppress.”

One masked supporter observed that, while white supremacists draw strength and identify the like-minded at these events, he would characterize these attendees as largely working-class people who do not benefit from the systems he was opposing through his presence. “They don’t seem to understand,” he said.

Garcia was overall pleased with the event, its turnout and the apparent avoidance of conflict. Despite the screaming during its culmination, he characterized it as peaceful. Moving through a crowd where everyone seemed to recognize him, he said he was not planning on running for office again. “They hate me!” he said with a smile. “Maybe now, they hate me more.”

There are 12 comments

  1. itsmewhoelse

    A very fair assessment as opposed to the one sided report put out by Spectrum news. I was not there but from the videos I saw, the protesters were definitely goading the other side to do something. I heard one say “Look at them, their just standing there, what can we do? Maybe if we all take off our clothes”. Lots of use of the F word on signs, the protesters were definitely the black eye on this entire thing. In another video, a young woman continually harassed a flag carrier relentlessly. I don’t know how he kept from smacking her.

  2. American

    Here’s the deal folks – there is NO BAD REACTION TO THE FLAG – the reaction is to many of the PEOPLE who claim to be ‘patriots’; who claim to be on the ‘right’ side of things who actually are not, and who actually have appropriated the symbol of American Democracy to represent something sinister. That’s what the deal is.

    Just to be clear, the ‘evil’ liberals you claim ‘hate’ the flag don’t at all…in fact, we vote, we pay taxes, we go
    to work every single day and the flag is as much OURS as it is YOURS…so let’s change the tone. The ‘Flag Wavers’ are often the folks in places like Charlottesville who march into town to bully, intimidate and even KILL; and they are the same folks who paint Swastikas in Kingston, and encourage political candidates to ‘beat up’ reporters who are simply ASKING QUESTIONS…DEMOCRACY – and the FLAG – ARE ABOUT ASKING THE HARD QUESTIONS SO WE ALL HAVE AN EQUAL VOICE. PERIOD.

  3. RedANT

    People backed you when you faced off with the far right, but facing off with veterans and other patriots who have bled to ensure your freedom is the wrong thing to do. I’ve definitely moved from supporter of antifa to a opponent.

  4. John Weisser

    Antifa and Liberal Radicals are the new Brown Shirts of Hitler’s Youth. They are what they hate. Themselves. They even hide their faces in shame afraid of the light of day.

    1. Spartacus

      You’re delusional if you think the Anti-Fascists are Brownshirts while the Proud Boys are beating people up in NYC. Get a grip.

  5. Spartacus

    This article gives absolutely no explanation by the counter-protesters about why we were present. I’m not sure if the bias is intentional or incidental, but it is negligent.

  6. Charles vesely

    When we start protesting a symbol of democracy and freedom we have lost our constructive message.We can not use the American flag as a target for every thing we dislike about our country because there is so much to celibrate about being lucky enough to live in such a great nation.For those that are unhappy about the direction our country is going protesting the American flag will only bolster mass resistance that will drown out constructive protest to our current situation.Seeing any protest to what the flag stands for envokes anger,because so many of us have given so much to make sure it still flies for all the right reasons!

  7. ny19voter

    I would urge those who ‘appreciate’ the flag and insist on displaying and celebrating the flag to review the US Flag Code. In the photo spread about the flag appreciation event from last week’s New Paltz Times I saw a number of flag ‘appreciators’ violating the code: a couple with entire shirts made to look like the flag, many people with flags emblazoned on their garments, a woman with a crumpled flag draped across her shoulders, and people with their flags rolled or crumpled in their hands, including a man wearing what looked like a military veteran’s cap of some sort. I imagine there were many more violations at the in-person event. Some of the following highlights of the US Flag Code might be helpful to flag ‘appreciators’. US Code, Title 4 Chapter 1 Section 8, states: “(d)The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free…(e)The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way…(i)The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown. (j)No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform…”(https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/4/8)

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