Flag Washing Ceremony (draft)

Here is an idea that has been bouncing around in my head – read this over & let me know what you think… (there are some questions after the text!)

(c) 2010 Skip Mendler

[Participants bring their household flags to a park or other public gathering place, preferably outdoors. (Each flag should have the household’s name written on the fly somewhere, for ease of identification.) There are two large tubs, one with soapy water (use a mild biodegradable detergent) and one with clean water. There is also a clothesline, strung up between trees or elsewise sturdily secured. A large flag – at least 4’x6′ – hangs from a line behind the speakers’ podium.]

1. Introduction
Welcome to the [name of community] Flag Washing Ceremony.
Today, we come together as neighbors, friends, and fellow-citizens to remember parts of our history that we would, perhaps, much rather forget. But just as we share in the benefits of being Americans today, so we must also share in responsibility for our country’s actions, both today and in the past… for as this song declares, “This is our country.” Please join us as we sing…

2. Song: “This is My Country”

3. First Reading
Reader 1:
This is indeed our country. There are other days in the year when we celebrate her history. There are other days when we commemorate the achievements of our ancestors. There are other days when we gratefully acknowledge the brave and painful sacrifices that have been made in our names, and for our sakes.

But today we acknowledge that we are also a nation of fallible human beings. Today we acknowledge that we, and those who have gone before us, have not always lived up to the high standards and ideals upon which this country was founded, and upon which it stands today – liberty, democracy, justice, and equality before the law. We have not always heeded divine guidance, or wise counsel, or indeed the evidence of our own eyes. As a nation and as individuals, we have not always considered the consequences of our actions – or our inaction – on the lives of others, or the health of the planet.

From Andersonville to Abu Ghraib – from Hawai’i to Hiroshima – from the auction blocks of the slave merchants to the Trail of Tears… [names of other events may be inserted as the organizers or community might desire] These mistakes stand as stains upon the fabric of our nation – symbolically, stains upon our most sacred national symbol, our flag. And so we are here today to humble ourselves before history and the world, and to rededicate ourselves to the work of renewal, and to the effort to make this world a better place.

We are here to wash our flag.

4. Washing the Community Flag
[A diverse group of at least four citizens (ask for volunteers if desired) removes the large flag from behind the podium, and carry it flat to the tub of soapy water. They dunk it several times, then wring it out. They then carry the flag to the tub of clear water and repeat the process. The flag is returned to its place.]

5. Washing the Household Flags
[Individuals and households are invited to bring their flags forward, wash and rinse them, and then hang them on the clotheslines.]

6. Pledge of Allegiance
[When all the flags are hanging on the clotheslines, the Pledge of Allegiance may be recited.]

7. Final Readings/Remarks
[At this point in the ceremony, the organizers of the event may choose one or more speakers to either read appropriate texts or deliver original remarks. Alternatively, they might choose to let people speak extemporaneously.]

8. America the Beautiful/Shared Meal
Friends, while the flags are drying, we invite you to join together with your neighbors and share in the food that has been brought. We further invite you to begin the work of renewal now – by talking a few moments to meet someone you might not yet know. Before we eat, let’s conclude our ceremony by singing “America the Beautiful.” Thank you for coming today.

Now some questions for you:

  1. When in the year would such a ceremony be most appropriate? (I don’t think having it around the Memorial Day/Flag Day/Independence Day timeframe would work… maybe mid-August?)
  2. Which events from American history would you mention in the list in the “First Reading” section?
  3. What readings, poems, or songs might you use in the “Final Readings” section?  I want to engender some hope & determination… and a feeling that things can indeed be made better, despite the errors of the past.  I’d like to include an appendix of writings from which local organizers might choose.   (Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” comes to mind, for example.)

5 responses to “Flag Washing Ceremony (draft)

  1. Skip, I’m impressed. I wonder about Flag Day being that it would be a particularly striking way of (re)claiming the holiday for progressive statements. IT could also be interesting to do something around the Summer Solstice as a way of really “bringing things to light”.

    Question: Is the song selected the one to the tune of Finlandia by Sebalius, or am I thinking of a different song? If I am correct in the tune, yes, it is Patriotic, though might be interesting to sing “O beautiful for spacious skies” “or this land is your land” which are more traditionally “American”


  2. marie barnett

    this is so powerful. what a great thought! I like the solstice idea.


  3. Love the idea — and love the suggestion to include “This Land Is Your Land.” I sang that, quietly, to a 9-month-old child as our plane flew over land and he looked out the window. Parents on the flight had just adopted twin boys from Rumania and everyone on the plane was acting as the “village” to keep the boys happy on the flight . . .


  4. One of the problems that so-called “progressives” have is that they usually only preach to the choir. If one plays Finlandia and holds the ceremony on Summer Solstice day, in all probability both of Wayne County’s liberals will show-up, and no one else. In terms of holding the event, either Flag Day or Armistice Day would be more easily understood by more Americans. Bruce Springsteen would be a more palatable musical choice for most folks, and I would encourage involving the Legion, Scouts and Rotary.


  5. I love this ceremony. Please post any news of developments.


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