Yesterday I was listening to an ancient mixed CD and rediscovered the song Birds by Mark Shepard, a pretty obscure little gem of a tune by a singer/songwriter that lives over the state line in Albany. The lyrics are mostly all these things that birds don’t do, like carry suitcases, buy real estate, or smoke cigars. The lines I keep repeating to myself are birds do not pledge allegiance to a flag and they just fly, fly, fly, birds just fly.
This framing of the bird action as full of freedom fills my imagination with my own visions of soaring the skies, what it must be like to catch a thermal and to see the earth from above without any worry of state or country boundaries. This song also reminded me of a conversation I had right after the presidential election with a friend when somehow I found myself reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Liberty and justice for all. If you went to grade school in the United States, you have likely said this pledge hundreds of times, and maybe haven’t thought about it much since then. Those last five words keep haunting me, keeping spinning in my brain, as I try to understand how many of my friends, students, neighbors, and those I haven’t met, don’t know if that is true for them because of their race, class, gender, sexuality or religion.
I have no big solutions to the threats to personal liberties or the injustices that surround me except to try to do my best to uphold liberty and justice in my classroom, my home and my community. And to ask others to do the same. I return to the work of Corita Kent and the role of activism in art, and how my responsibility as a printmaker is to disseminate work that raises people up, encourages, inspires.
What will you do?