“Don’t tread on me!”
Lately, I’ve seen this seemingly simple phrase in many places: On shirts while I’m in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, on the license plates of many cars here in Virginia, plastered on large yellow flags attached to large pick-up trucks.
The yellow, coiled-snake-donning flags have become increasingly popular since the uprising of the American Tea Party. Originally designed by Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden during the American Revolution in 1775, the Gadsden flag is said to represent personal freedom, civil liberties and frustration with the government.
As someone who values individuality and the ability to fully live into our humanness, I can appreciate the push for personal liberty. But, it’s frustratingly fascinating to observe which people and groups are loudly shouting, “Don’t tread on me!”
Last year at this time, I read about and watched as people across the country battled for their right to own and carry guns. I remember being overwhelmed with frustration and sadness as I was hoping, dreaming and fighting for the right to have a legal marriage. Of course I was biased to my own needs, but I couldn’t quite fathom why so many people were outraged over stricter weapon laws when I simply wanted to marry the love of my life.
Today, when I observe the atrocious life situations for many in this country, I am almost embarrassed that I believed that I was being tread upon. Yes, marriage equality was a necessary and much needed improvement. (And I got to marry my brilliant wife!) LGBT rights were and continue to be imperative.
However, there are people in our country who do not even possess the ability to make a living wage, house their families or even stay alive.
I want to steal that yellow flag away from the people who fight for guns, capitalism and “religious freedom” and fly it for every single soul in our country who is barely surviving.
I want to reimagine a Don’t Tread on Me flag that flies in memory of Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Eric Harris, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford III, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Ervin Edwards, Thaddeus McCarroll, Cedric Bartee, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Kathryn Johnston, Ramarley Graham, Johnathan Ferrell, Akai Gurley, Sam DuBose, and Kindra Chapman. A flag that shouts, “We refuse to allow bodies to be brutalized, incarcerated and killed simply because they are black!”
I want to wave a Don’t Tread on Me flag that shows solidarity with native peoples and recognizes the past and current atrocities committed against them. They were tread upon by European settlers and have continued to be tread upon by American exceptionalism ever since.
Let’s hoist up a Don’t Tread on Me flag with our transgender family who fight each day for respect in the face of horrid dehumanization. The number of hate crimes committed against trans people is on the rise. Murders of trans women, especially trans women of color, have become commonplace.
I will proudly wave a Don’t Tread on Me flag with the underpaid migrant farm workers whose unappreciated labor make it possible for many of us to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. These workers slave long hours with little pay and no voice. We tread on their livelihood when we buy cheap produce and refuse to hold large food chains responsible for their refusal to pay living wages.
If we’re not careful, our privileged American desires for freedom will continue to tread upon those whom have historically been and continue to be stomped all over for the sake of our own comfort and success. We’re treading on Jesus’ least of these.
Instead, let us tread upon systemic racism. Let us tread upon the school-to-prison pipeline. Let us tread upon the dehumanization of immigrants. Let us tread upon policies that reward the rich and penalize the poor. Let us tread upon wealth mongers who are destroying our planet to make a buck.
In all these ways, let us not tread lightly.
Brittany lives in Charlottesville, VA with her wife Lindsay and their skeptical dog Eliza. She enjoys dancing, deconstructing destructive dominions of dominance, and alliterations. Above all else, Brittany tries to keep it real.