Our flag is still there

The end of an era is upon us. Maine’s own “Freeport Flag Ladies” have decided to retire.

For 18 years, they spent at least one day every week standing along Route 1. They weren’t pushing a political message or advocating for partisan policy positions. Instead, they simply wanted to demonstrate love for their country and their patriotism.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, far left, shares a moment with the “Freeport flag ladies,” left to right, JoAnn Miller, Elaine Greene, and Carmen Footer, on Sept. 11, 2019, in Freeport. The three women who’ve been waving the Stars and Stripes each week since the 9/11 attacks are retiring the tradition. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

There is something noble in its simplicity. The American flag hoisted proudly in rain or shine. A message to the world that, no matter what trials we undergo, we shall remain. After the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, Francis Scott Key’s words rang anew: the flag was still there.

The flag has a particular resonance in the world today. For those of us here, it sometimes feels like things are falling apart. The political warfare in Washington between partisan camps fills headlines online and over the air. The actual warfare between white supremacists and “Antifa” spills violence into our streets.

But the flag — and the idea of America — means more. For weeks on end, Hong Kong has been gripped in the throes of civil unrest. Protestors have struck back against an encroaching Chinese imperium. In the midst of it all, the Hongkongers waved the American flag and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The flag — and the ideals for which it stands — was still there.

Which brings us back to the Freeport Flag Ladies. The power of symbolism was readily apparent. It served as a rallying cause for disparate groups. Every political leader wanted to stand with them outside L.L. Bean. It was good politics, but it was also the right thing to do.

Since the three ladies started standing with their flags shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has entered two “big” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve also been brought into “smaller” wars in Libya and Syria, among others. Men and women with the American flag proudly displayed on their right arm, stars forward to reflect an advance, went forward to do their jobs on behalf of their nation. And, in most cases, our flag is still there.

Its worth remembering as America considers its future on the world stage. On Nov. 3, 2020, ballots will be cast for president by people who were not yet born on Sept. 11, 2001. The twin towers are merely a memory they have received from a world which existed before them. And 34-year-old Sgt. First Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz lost his life in Afghanistan on Sept. 5, in an effort that has literally been in existence for the entirety of their lives.

However, while Hongkongers wave the American flag in hopes that American values may be maintained, the Afghan people had the opposite experience. The Taliban government in Kabul, seizing power after the Soviet withdrawal in the 1980s, placed most of the country under a totalitarian regime. When American forces arrived, the Afghan people had a new chance at life.

Since the Freeport Flag Ladies began their watch, Afghanistan has joined the modern world — 84% of Afghans support women’s education, while 61% are satisfied with democratic freedoms. The biggest problems facing young Afghans are a lack of jobs and schools, not a multitude of beheadings.

That all happened because the American flag — inextricably tied to Americans themselves — found its way to Afghanistan. There are plenty of political and policy conversations to have concerning our role in the world. How much blood and treasure should we invest abroad, versus deploying at home? It is a real question with no clear answer.

But, whatever answer we come up with, our flag will follow, both here and on foreign shores. So even if the Freeport Flag Ladies will not be holding it aloft weekly, their efforts have inspired countless others. The flag will still fly in Freeport, and Hong Kong, and Afghanistan. And wherever it is, there our ideals will be.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.