This is the Grassroots Unity U.S. flag. It is an alternative to the customary gold fringed flag we often see displayed indoors ceremoniously. It was first introduced by Americans for Social Justice at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. in June of 2002. The flag was never put into production, despite its numerous appearances at public events and demonstrations across the country. Instead, all of the Grassroots Unity flags over the years have been made by George Ripley and his associates, who aim to have the flag publicly available to the public at large.
The Grassroots Unity flag is distinguished by its green fringe and alternate finials on top; wherein a globe, dove and chaffs of wheat replace the cannonball, Imperial Roman Eagle and spearpoint.
Why should we have another version of the flag? What do we make of its presentation and meaning today, and should anyone besides a vexillologist care?
Can we envision a more appropriate decorative presentation of the flag as we continue to grow and progress as a nation? And why has the use of gold fringe and knotted gold tassels, accompanied by an eagle on top, become the defacto ceremonial display style at political conventions and in our courts, churches, military and police departments?
To many Americans, the bright gold fringe and knotted tassels might conjure up prosperity, formality and the regal. Part of this may be simply due to the usually ornate settings we so often find them in, such as at political conference rooms at upscale hotels, stately courtrooms and other spacious institutional buildings. But in the lexicon of symbols, gold can be seen to symbolize not just prosperity or even the Sacred, but also the Profane. Prosperity for the few at the expense of the populace and the environs. Imperialism and militarism outweighing and having more of an impact than our generosity and sense of right. It could be argued that our nation’s image and the connotations of several components found in our nation’s flag lean away from our best ideals as a nation.
For example, take a look at the finials, which are the objects that adorn the top of the flagpole. The eagle we see perched atop many flagpoles is what is known as the Imperial Roman Eagle. It’s the same Eagle we blew off the Reichstag in Hitler’s Berlin when the Allies took it. Caesar’s armies marched under it. It is something that has at times symbolized the imperial power of the state. This militaristic interpretation is further enforced by the other two finials we use to cap off our flagpoles. The metal sphere seen on most all outdoor flagpoles, is referred to as the cannonball; and the pointy-tipped finial is known as the spearpoint, alluding to how flags were often bayonet- and spear-tipped when taken into battle.
Clearly these nods to the militaristic and imperialistic aren’t symbolic of the Sacred. And given their constant presence in formal military, governmental and court settings of a hawkish or authoritarian nature, perhaps they shouldn’t be expected to be. But shouldn’t we also have an alternative to the gold fringe and decorative knotted gold tassels? Something atop the American flag other than a spearpoint, imperial eagle or cannonball which would be more representative of our highest aspirations and values? A flag that would offer up a symbolism related to the grassroots, the Commons and progress rather than the elite power structures and conquest?
To a small but growing number of people, the little-known Grassroots Unity Flag is, and has been, that alternative for ten-plus years. The need for it today is as strong as it was back when the flag was introduced during the run-up to the Iraq war, NSA dominance and the hijacking of Americans’ fears.
As conceived and developed by George Ripley and Americans for Social Justice, the Grassroots Unity Flag starts at the flagpole. (Yes, even the flagpole can be seen as having symbolic meaning!) It is a symbol of that which we stand for, that which we uphold and that which unifies us. And the central organizing principle suggested by the Grassroots Unity flag is social justice. Social justice as the flagpole, as the organizing principle, for all Americans moving forward.
The green fringe around the edges of the flag is meant to represent the grassroots. It looks like the grass and is symbolic of life and growth, our farms and forests, our sustenance and our grassroots movements.
And last but not least, the finials which accompany the Grassroots Unity Flag suggest a more harmonized approach to how we see and understand the world beyond the purely militaristic symbols of prior finials and predominantly militaristic actions of previous eras. Instead of a metallic sphere or ‘cannonball’ perched atop the flagpole, a blue-green orb representing our world, our one planet, which we need to begin taking care of rather than simply using and exploiting. Instead of an imperial rendering of our national bird the eagle, use a white dove, bravely advocating for peace. And instead of a spearpoint, use bundled shafts of wheat symbolizing sustenance and our planet’s bounty.
The Grassroots Unity Flag has appeared at numerous social justice focused actions and events over the last decade-plus. In 2016 it was flown during all four days of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, visited a demonstration or two in DC, dropped by the Rainbow Gathering up in Vermont and made the entire weeklong march from Philadelphia to Washington, DC for Democracy Spring. George also will be cycling to locales in Maryland and Virginia, presenting the flag for display and discussion in the months prior to the flag’s production launch.
Keep an eye on this space for more information, display pictures and history of the Grassroots Unity Flag, including details on how to get one (starting in June 2017) and the nonprofit foundation that will handle donations to electoral reform organizations.