IMO: Stuck in the Van with Zealots


In my opinion, I would rather clean my oven and scrub the toilets than travel ninety minutes each way in a van with outspoken colleagues to attend a professional conference. My nickname is Switzerland because I abhor confrontation and prefer to remain neutral over most topics. I am surrounded by two loud alpha females: one who is passionately a feminist (Sally), while the other is a supercilious Democrat (June). The stoic, older intellectual (Martha) is a Buddhist and a socialist who esteems animals higher than humans; she has a general disregard for Americans. So much so that when she travels, she speaks other languages to avoid being labeled American. Finally, there in the back of the van, the gentle, calculus teacher and coach (Phil), pretends to take a nap. He’s not married.

At least I got to drive which kept me busy. Tired of listening to an hour of extreme opinions, negative attitudes, and the general flush from the two super-fans of Hillary Clinton, I attempted to steer the conversation away from the upcoming election. Let’s talk shop. June prides herself as a senior faculty leader who name-drops her school board friends and is privy to inside information behind administrator’s doors.  I threw out a conversation starter. “How does everyone like our interim superintendent? Do you think he will become our new principal? Who knows of his plans?” There began an eruption of groans and a clamor of disapproval. June assured me there was no way the board would let him stay after his temporary contract was over.

Sally gasped, “Can you believe he initiated the pledge of allegiance back into the classroom?”

I raised my fist with approval.  “I think it’s great. I was surprised when I first moved to Arizona that we didn’t lead the school day with the Pledge. It’s about time!”

Sally and June looked at me with raised eyebrows. June knows I am a Navy veteran. She said casually, “Oh, that’s just the military side of you talking.”

“I don’t do it in my classroom,” said Sally. June agreed. “It’s propaganda. It’s brainwashing.”

I steamed. “I make my kids stand up and say it.”

“You shouldn’t make them.”

I tried to remain calm. “So many have sacrificed their lives for us to enjoy our freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights.”

Sally smacked her thigh. “Precisely why I don’t say it. Free speech. I don’t have to say the pledge just because I’m told to. It’s my right. I don’t pledge my loyalty to the United States of America.”

“But why wouldn’t you want to?”

“This country is fucked up.”

 It was the first time I had a conversation with this new teacher. She talked about leaving AZ and going back to Washington at the end of her annual contract. She aroused in me dark thoughts and mean wishes. I looked at Sally with one eye. My hands were shaking.  “I teach Holocaust Studies and U.S. History. I’m well aware that nationalism is the downfall of the twentieth century. Propaganda, taken too far is dangerous. But how we see ourselves is connected to the values our society believes in. In America, that means rugged determinism. Hard work. Serving others. Going after dreams. Reinventing ourselves when we fail. Perseverance. My national identity is wrapped around a creed that aims to create solidarity. Another creed I identify with is the Apostles Creed.”  It comforts me to identify myself with my country and my God. These creeds are guidelines, reminders of my history, and they define me.

Feel free to be disgruntled with your government, but love your country. I see high school students who don’t know what to believe. All they hear is noise and they stumble around looking like zombies trying to figure out their identities. Understanding why the United States is a great country with an awesome history is a start, and why I love my job. A national identity is a great start. Without loyalty, integrity slips away. Without loyalty to your country, we are loyal to ourselves and such self-absorption halts the growth of communities. That’s where individuals make the biggest impact in their country.


Why should we pledge ourselves to the flag?

I’ve known women who have lost husbands, sons, and daughters to wars. That folded flag at a funeral is a thank you. A thank you for serving and protecting my freedoms. When I pledge the allegiance to the flag, I see the Revolutionary War. Those were true patriots who died for the principals of freedom. They died for an idea.

I see in the stars and stripes the battle of the Civil War. Northern and Southern soldiers chose to protect the union or were willing to die to protect their land and an ideology. They believed in their principles, and that made them patriots.

In the 20th Century, while late in entering both World Wars, the U.S. aided and served with the Allies to stop dictatorships and uphold democratic ideals. Soldiers died so that their children and grandchildren (us) would enjoy free speech and the right to pursue their dreams. The American flag took a beating after that. Citizens grew angry and unhappy with their country. The Vietnam War was a mess with soldiers who didn’t want to fight in an unwinnable war. But they did go and serve. Civilians started burning the flag. Reagan came along, and as a Teflon President, his strong appearance helped convince Gorbechov they could end the Cold War.

Now all seems like chaos. Special interest groups covet. Desert Storm. Afghanistan. Iraq. Taliban. Isis. It’s a muddled mess with drones and ultra-technology. Now others hate America.  It’s a colossal mess, and I certainly don’t have answers. I can’t imagine any President would want to inherit it all. It’s understandable that people are angry and lost and care little for the U.S. flag. The rise of ex-pats leaving the USA is growing. Okay, go then, if you are consumed with hatred and feel hopeless.


What I do believe, when I say the Pledge of the Allegiance, is I’m thankful for the original soldiers who fought for an idea. Their strength of character inspires me. I strive for my accomplishments. I earn them. The flag symbolizes the American Spirit which I stress in class. Through hard work and determinism, anyone can strive for a better life. I pledge my allegiance to the flag because chaos from the past offers us a balancing stick to cross the tightrope of chaos today. To me, it is an insult, a dishonor not to say The Pledge of Allegiance.

I still don’t know who I’m voting for on Tuesday.

25 thoughts on “IMO: Stuck in the Van with Zealots

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  1. So you are one of the 10% undecided? Fair enough, Cindy. I could not choose between Trump’s apparent madness, and Clinton’s corporate America. And I am very glad that I don’t have to. I am not American, and I am very far from being a Nationalist, as anyone who knows me will affirm.
    But surely part of being an American is to defend your right to choose what to say and feel? In which case, your journey sounds to me like the ‘Journey to Hell’. Those outspoken women might well have their right to free speech, but as teachers, they should know when it is appropriate to keep quiet.
    Best wishes, Pete. x


    1. Pete, thank you. I knew I could count a Brit to point out their lack of decorum. 🙂
      It’s the in-your-face type of opinions that I find obnoxious. But what’s worse is when you disagree with them, and they are condescending. I’ve seen nasty soap-box screeching on facebook–people writing you off as a friend, for example, if you disagree.


  2. Cindy, as beautifully as ever but your words really struck me. With the referendum on leaving Europe and the fallout from that vote, the UK has been looking a lot at its national identity this year. Unless associated to sporting success, any national pride tends to be dismissed as racism or extreme nationalism, both the Union Flag and St George’s Flag have been adopted by the far right. We don’t have anything that compares to the pledge of allegiance but I have heard many people say similar things to your colleagues assessment that “This country is fucked up.”. Whilst I defend anyone’s freedom of speech to make such a comment, I can’t listen to anyone make such a statement without asking them one of two questions: What are you doing to make it better? Or, what are you still doing living here? I am not Switzerland!

    With regard to your choice on Tuesday, I know that we are not getting the full story over here and what I am seeing reported is tainted by the agenda of whoever is reporting it. I was in America during the primaries in 2008. I got into a conversation about how the upcoming election was being reported in England, to put it simply that the Democrat candidate, Obama or Clinton, would win the election. An gentleman who had up until this point seemed quite normal and well adjusted informed me that “America isn’t ready to elect a (insert the worst racial term you can think of for a black man) or (and a similarly offensive term for a woman) to The Whitehouse. While he was wrong, I am sure he believed what he said and wasn’t alone in this belief, something that wasn’t making its way across the Atlantic! Whichever box you tick on Tuesday, or if you choose to abstain, I have read enough of your writing to know it will be an informed and educated choice.


  3. When I say the pledge of allegiance I know for a fact that it comes from saying it every day in grammar school. I still see myself standing with my hand over my heart. I didn’t know exactly why it was done but I knew it had something to do with respect for our country. That feeling has stayed with me 50 plus years. I understand it better now and I am still feel like a proud citizen. Thanks to my teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Feel free to be disgruntled with your government, but love your country.” Maybe I’m old fashioned but I think you should appreciate the country that nurtured you and provides freedom to think and disagree. To me those who are not interested in appreciating freedoms offered and be prepared to do the hard yards to preserve them and be loyal to its institutions should move out and try living under the chaotic systems in other parts of the world where perhaps they can be happier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ian, I guess I’m old fashioned, too. Yes, I’ve said that, too. Go ahead and be an ex-pat. I’m tired of hearing it. I was lucky enough to live in Scotland during my stint in the Navy. I loved the experience, but I was very glad to go home. I love traveling, but I can’t imagine living somewhere else and calling myself something other than American.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I naively thought that you still all did that pledge every morning. One interpretation of your pledge, of course, is that the two aims of “liberty and justice for all” are not yet achieved, but that is no reason to just give up the attempt.


    1. Yes, of course. There’s never been a time in our history where it was hunky-dory and everyone was happy with their situation. Today is no different. It’s the principals that guide us which keep us on track. Those goals are what you pledge to. Thank you, John.


    1. Ha! Thanks very much. I’m proud of many things about America. You don’t hear about that much. Usually only those who come from somewhere else in the world and are relieved and blessed to make it to America to live.


  6. You know .. I watch from Canada .. and I get scared. I see what’s going on and I see that some people don’t get it that the US is the Champion of the Free World – and has been for a long time. And if it ever falls, the Free World falls with it. Because there are plenty of nations on this planet that don’t care about Freedom – even for their own people. They want Power.

    I am not a Flag Waver and never have been, and I used to be critical of that, but the US has a unique position and unique responsibility in this world – they hold the line against tyranny. With any faults, you must not falter. I pray your new leader will keep you strong.

    Wave your flag and hold it high.


    1. Thanks, JC., your comment means a lot! It’s a big pressure for sure, and all empires fall, don’t they? I see signs that we will become a global entity (within a 100 years). I wonder what world my grand-kids will have when they are my age. Fortunately, I’ll be a distant memory. 😉


  7. Interesting conversation here, your post made me think, as did the comments that followed. My kids still do the pledge of allegiance at their school.

    So when we embrace our freedom to the point where we can choose to not pledge allegiance are we then in danger of losing sight of what brought us these freedoms to begin with and then risking what freedoms we have built? Good food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Pledge of Allegiance is one thing.. but I’ve had some issues with the National Anthem. Oh, for sure I am patriotic to both without prejudice. That’s not my point. But our national anthem is all about the flag surviving a battle and the next morning it was still flying. Yeah, we tend to metaphore the heck out of the symbolism, but to me it seems to present our country in some militaristic light. I’m more fond of “America, The Beautiful” actually; leave the flag worship to the pledge. But fat chance we will ever change it these days.. because it has the word “God” in it.


  9. Tricky topic Cindy so I thank you for your post. I think a sense of self and where you come from are important. Pride in your country is good because it means you take ownership and want to make it a better place to live. Respect for troops and those that have died in service is important otherwise why would people volunteer to defend their country if their country doesn’t give a shit about them. I know some real bad people who wore or wear a military uniform. Criticism of them or a culture that supports them is valid but to tar everybody with the same brush is foolish. I know some people who didn’t sign up to defend our freedoms but to merely go to war and see some action. Less noble intentions does not mean their service is less noble. We could go on for days about this and still not get anywhere. In my country there are a lot of people who wrap themselves in our flag and speak of hatred. Australia Love It or Leave they say. I do not agree with those people and I do not like them wrapping themselves in my flag. But others who talk of global citizenship and leave our shores and tell me that my country is backwards and racist. I don’t particularly care what they think, they left. In both our countries identity politics have taken over. Neither major party works towards consensus and as voters we fall into two divided camps more than ever. That’s not the answer. Sure I lean one way but on some issues I lean the other and I like to think I can change my mind, compromise. How about this for a thought? What your country is and what it stands for should always change and should always be challenged but one should never forget the past, never forget what we can all agree was good. The Consitution, the Pledge of Allegiance. They didn’t happen in a vacuum. Those grand old white guys knew it wasn’t perfect, they wanted it to represent true freedom for the people and they safeguarded that in it. That is what is grand about it, that is what is grand about America. Nobody should turn their back on that in order to move forward. You look back to find the answers for the future. As for soldiers who died in wars past. Whatever the reason they were there, whatever the outcome of the war…Sacrifice! True and complete sacrifice should never be forgotten. It should be revered. Now and always. You know how strongly I feel about that.


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