Adam Blaustein Rejto contributing
The car horns started hours before the announced start time of the “Stand With Old Glory” rally on Sunday, as protesters lined West Street with cars, motorcycles, fake army trucks, and– flags. Stars and Stripes, of course, but also spotted was the black and blue police memorial flag, the Gadsden ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag, and the soon-to-be-classic TRUMP (make America great again). If attendees failed to bring their own flag, no problem! There were plenty to be had.
According to the Facebook event, the protest was a “peaceful demonstration of freedom… In solidarity to the sacrifices of the US Military.” It was organized by the Amherst Veterans of Foreign Wars as a response to Hampshire’s much-noted removal of the American flag from our library lawn, with many news outlets (falsely) reporting that Hampshire had banned the flag from campus (or, as one person said on facebook, instituted a “no-flags policy.”)
The story was first picked up shortly after Veterans Day by Masslive and The Gazette, and then by Channel 22. On the 21st, a Hampshire student made a controversial appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, and the next day Ben Carson posted about the college’s decision, calling it “unconscionable.” (As of Monday morning, “Hampshire College” was trending on facebook with “37k people talking about this.”)
Debate about Hampshire’s flag goes back at least to the beginning of College President Jonathan Lash’s tenure– after the Boston marathon bombings in 2013, a student hacked Lash’s email, sending out a message to students that the flag would be flown upside down in respect for Arab Americans. Many students responded with support, only to feel betrayed when they found out that the email was fake. Anger flared up again last spring after the school complied with the White House’s request that all flags be flown at half mast in honor of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death many students saw more as a source of relief than a cause for mourning.
But even with the charged history of Flag Discourse, and strong reactions from outside the community, many Hampshire students have indicated that they don’t actually care all that much. The general response of students to the media presence has been either annoyance or amusement.
Students returning from Thanksgiving break through the main entrance had to navigate through the crowd of about 300, which was sometimes slow in clearing out of the road.
Signs included “America– love it or leave it!” and “Hampshire College 56% Graduation Rate– Enough Said!” (with a little “HC” with a circle and a line through it in the corner for good measure.) Another advertised toilet paper as a diploma.
“Imagine the meltdown if we burn the LGBTQ flag,” one woman said.
Everyone’s favorite turtle chimed in on his blog as well, deeming Hampshire not a school but a “group of freaks” run by Nazis.
At 1:00pm, a speak-out style rally began with Victor Nunez, president of the Amherst VFW. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarano and many veterans and family of veterans also spoke, sharing quotes, poems, statements, and chants, including “raise that flag” and, when discussing
the Hampshire students that burned said flag, “lock them up!”– a reference to “lock her up,” a refrain from the Republican National Convention and the last couple months of the Presidential campaign. At one point, when students were standing in the road, protesters encouraged a coming car to “Run them over!”
Others struck a more reconciliatory note. One of the speakers thanked the campus police
and Jonathan Lash for allowing them on campus. He mentioned that a few of them have been on campus for a couple of days scoping it out.
Fox News reported an attendance of about one thousand– while organizers estimated about three to four hundred.
Photos by Amy Deyerle-Smith