Today -- June 14 -- is Flag Day. The flag is a powerful symbol to many people, both in and of itself and how it's displayed.In 2010, the ACLU of Southern California sued the Veterans Administration on behalf of Vietnam veteran Robert Rosebrock after VA police prevented him from displaying the American flag upside down on the gates of the West Los Angeles VA facility -- in protest of the VA's failure to use the 387 acres to help the neediest of homeless veterans. Last month, a judge ruled that the VA did indeed violate Rosebrock's right to free speech. His observations on Flag Day are below.
Celebrating the Flag
As a veteran and patriot, the American flag is deeply significant to me. Flying the flag is a wonderful way for me to express how much I love this country. But the flag can also be a potent symbol of more than just patriotism. The United States Flag Code provides that the flag may be displayed union side down to send a message of distress to life and property. (The union on the flag is the blue portion with a star for each of the fifty states). Sailors on ships in distress have displayed the flag union down, but others like me have displayed the flag this way as a form of political protest.
For more than 3 years I have stood outside the almost 400 acre Veterans Administration campus in West Los Angeles every Sunday with other veterans and concerned citizens, to protest the VA’s failure to use the land for the purposes for which it was given to the United States in 1888. Instead of using the land to care for and to shelter veterans in need, particularly homeless veterans, the VA has entered into land use deals that allow more than 100 acres of the campus to be used as a rental car lot, a hotel laundromat, and athletic fields for a local private school. Meanwhile homeless veterans can be seen sleeping on the streets right outside the VA’s campus.
After protesting for more than a year while the VA continued to ignore the plight of homeless veterans, I began to hang the flag union down to express that the land was in danger, as were the veterans who needed the kind of care and shelter that the VA should be providing there. This display attracted much attention, and when people asked me and other veterans why we were hanging the flag that way, they almost universally expressed their support for our message and our cause. And now, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a number of veterans groups challenging the VA’s failure to use the land to meet the needs of homeless and disabled veterans. So our distress message has been answered and now justice is being pursued.
So, on Flag Day, I want to take this opportunity to honor the flag and salute the power of the messages it can express.