I stopped reciting the Pledge of Allegiance years before I could accurately pronounce or define the word “dissonance.” 

Sometimes I’d mouth the pledge’s words in the mornings at school because I thought I had to, but my heart was rarely in it. I knew “liberty and justice for all” sounded great in theory, but those principles didn’t seem to apply to my colonized Black and Indigenous American ancestors. And those contradictions continue to sow havoc in this country. 

As the oppressive political decisions made by our nation’s leaders continue to motivate massive numbers of students, workers and voters to express built-up indignation, we need to consider this country’s contradictory history when demanding systemic changes.

We need to prevent our elected politicians from causing us further harm.

On Sunday, April 28, I marched with students and allies on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus to support Palestine. Then I helped carry heavy packs of water bottles to the solidarity encampment site at Polk Place to discuss politics for a few hours before returning to Greensboro. Those moments of connection were enough to ease the extreme tension I felt being back in the majority-white, wealthy town I lived in with my low-income family for a decade. 

Two days later, three dozen pro-Palestinian protestors were arrested when campus police closed down the encampment. 

What happened next depends on which news sources you trust. Multiple reports note that officers were called in by the university a few hours after the initial arrests to disperse the huge crowd of protesters and counter-protesters, but any use of police violence is missing from both CBS 17’s account of events and from UNC-Chapel Hill’s safety update.

The public Instagram account of UNC’s chapter of Students For Justice In Palestine tells a different story: that police officers sent to clear out students attacked some of them with pepper spray, violently arrested and physically “beat” them too. While Indy Week confirmed that “officers sprayed pepper spray at protesters several times,” they didn’t corroborate UNCSJP’s claims of physical violence. 

I trust my own eyes. 

Shortly after the protests, UNCSJP posted disturbing footage from April 30 on their Instagram as a way to push back against UNC-Chapel Hill’s official statements. It showed one police officer dragging a protester by their hair, and another officer shoving a protester to the ground. One officer pushed a long, silver gate onto a person in a wheelchair.  

At some point during the pandemonium, protestors managed to replace an American flag with a Palestinian one, prompting a mostly white group of frat boys to quickly surround the flagpole to guard the star-spangled fabric that seemed integral to their identities. 

The brothers of Pi Kappa Phi wouldn’t let their symbol touch the ground, and for their efforts, they were rapidly rewarded with more than $500,000 in donations to throw a “party worthy of the boat-shoed Broletariat(s) who did their country proud.” Meanwhile, the Israeli military was probably strategizing around the American-made precision bomb they would use in late May to brutally attack Rafah. 

The inability of the group of fraternity brothers to see the larger point of the day — to view the raising of the Palestinian flag as both an act of support and a challenge to political leaders rather than a personal threat — highlights a few major, long-term consequences of colonialism. Entire groups of Americans, even non-politicians, have absorbed two incredibly dangerous ideas: materials matter more than people, and some people matter more than others. 

If a house divided against itself cannot stand, how is such a polarized America still a functioning nation? 

The answer is in this country’s inception.

More than 200 years ago, an elitist class of white men severed political ties with Great Britain due to unjust practices, only to build and sustain America’s most powerful institutions with the forced, unpaid labor of others — including enslaved Africans and other members of the Black diaspora, indentured Europeans, and Indigenous land stewards. These institutions remain profitable and benefit people in powerful positions at the expense of the multicultural working class. This country was designed to operate antagonistically.  

Politicians who refuse to acknowledge that the ruling class gets wealthier by exploiting others and sabotaging our land can’t effectively address today’s social, cultural, and political issues. If they’re unwilling to discuss how local and foreign policies, racism, genocide, and global warming are interlinked, then they’re not as concerned with improving lives as they say they are.

Our biggest problems are interconnected and fixable, but it doesn’t make sense to rely solely on greedy companies, deceptive leaders, or anyone hired to protect the interests of the ruling class to fix them. There’s been plenty of dangerous legislation passed across party lines in the past 30 years alone to suggest that influential politicians would metaphorically hijack this planet’s navigational system and steer it into the ground for the right amount of oil.

America needs a new game plan. 

Enough of us are morally opposed to all forms of subjugation and exploitation, and we understand that those principles of domination eventually threaten the safety and sustainability of the entire planet. We have stopped uncritically pledging our allegiance to the American flag not because we are hateful people who despise this country, but because we are empathetic people who recognize this country’s potential to be better. Critiquing a country by exposing its harmful contradictions is not the same as destroying it.

As an American-endorsed famine spreads throughout Palestine and Israel intensifies “the most extreme stage of a long-standing settler-colonial process of erasing native Palestinians,” students, allies and global supporters of freedom will continue to exert public pressure on world political leaders to end this genocide. Acting in solidarity is how we’ll win a better future.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡