BY MIA BLONDIN
You may have seen a video or photo of FedEx employee Matt Uhrin stopping protesters from burning an American flag in downtown Iowa City. The original video blew up and was featured on several different news outlets. Most of the comments I saw about the situation on Twitter or Facebook praised Uhrin for what people saw as a patriotic act. Personally, my favorite was a tweet with the quote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
It is natural for the internet to make this a meme, and to allow Uhrin the 15 minutes of fame some think he deserves, but it’s important to think about this from the point of the protestors too. Uhrin was right to extinguish their flame, but not for the reason many think.
If you are in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication you had to memorize the first amendment for J30 and if you’ve even been in Meredith Hall you have most likely passed by the metal plaque where it is displayed. Under the first amendment (my favorite amendment) people have the right to burn the flag. The Supreme Court has ruled that burning the flag is covered under the free speech section of the first amendment, no matter how disrespectful it might seem.
Now if you just read that and are thinking about how unfair or insulting that is, I’m right there with you. I have family in the military and one of my best friends from high school is in Florida with the Air Force right now. To me the flag represents so much more than Trump, who hasn’t even been in office for a month. I don’t agree with people that burn the flag, but I have to respect their right to free speech.
The real problem for these protestors was where the burning took place. Two members of the group of about 10 people face charges for open burning, which is a simple misdemeanor in Iowa City, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $650. This protest didn’t happen in an open field or even a confined space, my first thoughts while watching the video were how many people pass by that spot every day. The protesters would have had every type of Iowa City resident pass by them: college students on their way to class, doctors or businessmen getting food on their lunch break, and even parents with young children. There is a playground I used to visit quite often as a child less than 100 yards away from where the entire incident took place.
While I understand that everyone needs to cope with the increasing stress of the Trump presidency in their own way, I don’t agree with the burning of the American flag, and I certainly don’t agree with the spot the protesters chose.
In the middle of the altercation, Uhrin quoted former Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi when he said, “If you don’t love it, leave it.”
Trump in the White House has motivated me to spin that quote into “If you don’t love it, do something productive to fix it.”
Bottom line: I don’t agree with the burning of the flag, and I wish the protestors had a more productive way to show they don’t agree with the policies being introduced, but I have to respect their rights as Americans to speak out and protest.