Pro-flag protesters to return to Hampshire College Sunday

Amherst Wire will broadcast live from Sunday’s protest

(Mike Mozart/ Flickr)

(Mike Mozart/ Flickr)

AMHERST — Protesters calling for Hampshire College to replace the American flag on their campus plan to return to the school Sunday at 12 p.m. for a rally called #RaiseOurFlag.

The demonstration is being organized by a group called Veterans Advocacy Services. Amherst Wire will broadcast live from Sunday’s protest on Facebook Live.

Hampshire College made the decision to remove the American flag from the campus’ main flagpole Nov. 18, sparking a national debate.

In a previous protest, roughly 500 veterans and community members stood outside the college Sunday waving American flags and chanting “raise our flag.” Marine veteran Derek Cloutier caught the scene on video.

Organizers deemed the protest a “peaceful demonstration of freedom” to show support for  “soldiers who have served, continue to serve and the ones we have lost but not forgotten.”  

National news outlets such as The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post have since covered the ongoing controversy.

The day after the presidential election, students lowered the flag to half-staff. According to a statement from the college, the decision was in “reaction to the toxic tone of the months-long election.”

Later, an unknown student burned the flag. Campus police are still investigating this incident, but Hampshire College replaced the flag. After a vote from the college’s board of trustees, the flag remained at half-staff.

Nov. 18, Hampshire College decided to remove the flag completely from its main flagpole on campus.

Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash said the removal of the flag was done “to enable us in the near term to instead focus our efforts on addressing racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviors.”

The decision created a national conversation about the symbolism of the American flag.

On Tuesday, president-elect Donald Trump joined the debate by tweeting“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Legally, burning the American flag is protected free speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution, following the Supreme Court’s five to four decision in the 1989 Texas v. Johnson case.

Further, the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Afroyim v. Rusk prevents the government from revoking citizenship as punishment for a crime.

Nonetheless, the removal of the flag has sparked outrage among some Amherst residents and other community members, culminating in last Sunday’s protests.

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, a Hampshire student sat in front of the Hampshire College sign while protesters taunted him. Police intervened and built a shield around the area to protect the student.

A protester yelled “Grab her by the pussy,” toward a female Gazette photographer, the paper reported, referencing Donald Trump’s words in an interview with Billy Bush.

This week, Lash sent an email to the Hampshire College community detailing the steps the college plans to implement to secure student safety.

“Campus safety is my number one concern,” Lash wrote.

The college will not allow any outside groups onto the Hampshire campus during demonstrations. According to Lash, an “increase of patrol presence around campus” is in place. According to Lash’s email, the student life office will be available to assist any students or faculty who need support.

Lash also wrote that the “media are prohibited from speaking directly to students.”

The email outlined the college’s initial decision to remove the flag, clarifying that there is not “a campus-wide ban on flags as some media have mistakenly reported. Campus members are free to individually display their own flags.”

Lash explained the Hampshire community is open for a discussion as to what the American flag symbolizes. The college will continue “to engage dialogue about the flag’s meaning and [student’s] experiences of it. Our goal is to make this discussion a learning opportunity by giving voice to the range of viewpoints on campus across cultures,” Lash wrote.

Email Carson McGrath at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @McGrathCarson.

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