DISSENT IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF PATRIOTISM, 2017 - ongoing is a 6x10-foot American flag that is hung upside down and backwards. The stars are painted forty-nine different colors to symbolize America’s diversity. The slogan “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” is painted in black letters, outlined in white for legibility.


Officially, the American flag should only be hung upside down in a time of great danger or distress, as a call for help. But historically, the flag has been hung upside down as a way to protest governmental policies or actions. I am flying the flag upside down to exercise my First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

The phrase “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” is often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson. But these words were first seen in a publication in 1961 put out by the Friends Coordinating Committee of Peace, a Quaker organization, where the committee posed the question: "If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, is dissent the highest form of patriotism?"[1]

The slogan “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” became part of the discourse of popular culture during the Vietnam War era. In a speech at Columbia University in 1969 referring to the National Moratorium Against the War demonstrations in Washington and Boston, Mayor John Lindsay of New York City stated, "We cannot rest content with the charge from Washington that this peaceful protest is unpatriotic...The fact is that this dissent is the highest form of patriotism."[2]

In more recent years, the phrase has been attributed to historian and human rights advocate, Howard Zinn. In an interview with Sharon Basco, Zinn explained:

While some people think that dissent is unpatriotic, I would argue that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles…. the Declaration of Independence makes it clear that governments are artificial creations set up to achieve certain ends — equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness — and when governments become destructive of those ends it is the right of the people in the words of the Declaration, to alter or abolish the government. [3]

DISSENT IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF PATRIOTISM, 2017 - ongoing is both a cry for help and a playful act of resistance reminding passersby of their democratic responsibility to participate actively in government. With Donald Trump as president, I want to encourage true patriotism that is critical of our current government. As Trump continues to propose inhumane, immoral and unconstitutional policies, we must fight to protect our most fundamental democratic values, including equality, self-determination, privacy, due process in legal proceedings, the same rule of law for all individuals, and freedom of speech.



Suzanne Russell, November 9, 2016



Footnotes


[1] The Use of Force in International Affairs (Philadelphia: Friends Coordinating Committee of Peace, 1961), 6.

[2] As reported by Bernard Weinraub, "Bells Toll and Crosses Are Planted Around U.S. as Students Say 'Enough!' to War: Campuses Remember Slain G.I.'s," New York Times, October 16, 1969, 19.

[3] Published at TomPaine.com, July 3, 2002