In Cold Spring, Minnesota, bullies are protesting against a homeowner’s decision to fly a Confederate flag.
The leader of the bullies, 20-year-old college student Jayda Woods, said of her neighbor’s flag: “To me, it just looks like a big thing that says ‘I hate you’ on it. ‘Stay away’ kind of thing, and just, ‘You’re not welcomed here.'”
“We’re not going to just stand by and have this flying in our neighborhood, right next to all of these kids, right next to the school where everyone’s driving by,” she added. “That’s just something I don’t want to live with for our town.”
Woods organized two protests, which involved dozens of people gathering with signs outside the offending house. She and her supporters have also written what she describes as “positive messages” in chalk on the sidewalk. These messages include “Black Lives Matter” and “Real Americans don’t fly traitor flags.”
To organize protests against a flag that a private citizen is flying on his/her own property displays a complete lack of tolerance and a complete lack of respect for the rights of one’s fellow citizens. First of all, Woods’s perceptions that the Confederate flag means “I hate you” and “stay away” are baseless. People fly Confederate flags for a variety of reasons, including pride in their Southern heritage or a belief in states’ rights or resistance to tyranny. Additionally, having negative feelings towards something (even if these feelings are valid and understandable, which is not the case in this situation) does not give a person the right to demand its removal, especially if it is located on another person’s private property. People do not have a right to never see anything they dislike while walking, driving, or jogging around town.
The homeowner who is flying the flag is doing absolutely nothing wrong. These attempts to pressure and browbeat this homeowner into stopping something that he/she has every right to do are acts of aggression and bullying. Woods says that she is not going to stand by and allow the flag to exist in her town. But that is exactly what she is obligated to do. What individuals do on their own property is none of her business; she and her supporters do not have the right to decide what other people in their town and neighborhood are and are not allowed to do.
Not to mention the fact that the Confederate flag is not a “traitor flag,” and calling it that is the exact opposite of a positive message.
“It is his First Amendment right, freedom of speech,” said Woods. “But what I would just like is at least a letter from the city of Cold Spring or from ROCORI High School, just asking him to take it down.”
This is contradictory. Woods is essentially admitting that the homeowner has a right to fly the flag while simultaneously asking the government to make him get rid of it!
To their credit, the city council responded to this request with the following statement: “The City of Cold Spring does not condone racial discrimination or the display of racist icons. The city strives to be a welcoming community for all persons regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender identification, age, ability, place of origin, citizenship status and veteran status. All citizens have the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution. The right is fundamental to our democracy and protects us all against tyranny. For that reason, the city can make no laws that abridge any citizen’s right to freedom of speech regardless of how offensive the speech may be.”
Woods has even started a petition to ban display of the Confederate flag, in which she calls the flag “highly intolerable, especially flying next to a school where ALL students and staff should feel welcomed and safe. It is extremely important to me that ALL students and all people who enter the ROCORI community are treated with respect.”
But her attempts to force the removal of the Confederate flag are, ironically, disrespectful and intolerant towards those with different views from her. Do people who are proud of their Southern heritage not also deserve to feel welcomed and safe? Do people who see the Confederate flag as a positive symbol of rebelliousness and freedom not also deserve to be treated with respect? Anyone who truly believes in the values of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance would accept and celebrate the right of each person to fly the flag of their choice.